Two Harvard researchers found a rare parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence long forgotten in a records office in England.
The only other parchment manuscript like it is viewed by millions at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. each year, according to a statement from Harvard University. Harvard professor Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, research manager of the Declaration Resources Project, found a short description about the document in the United Kingdom’s National Archives in 2015.
“I’d found vague descriptions of other copies of the Declaration that turned out to be 19th-century reproductions of the signed parchment in the National Archives, so that was what I was expecting,” Sneff said. “What struck me as significant was that it said manuscript on parchment.”
Many copies of the Declaration of Independence were made and distributed widely following the July 4, 1776, signing. So, finding a copy of the document isn’t unheard of, but finding a parchment manuscript is, according to the university.
The researchers presented their findings at Yale University last week. And while the document is similar to the original, there are some major differences.
Allen and Sneff used handwriting analysis, spelling errors in the names and parchment preparation to date the document to the 1780s.
The document, which is called the Sussex Declaration, was likely produced a decade after the original Declaration of Independence and sheds light on the tumultuous years after the American Revolution, according to the researchers.
“Victory was not sweet,” Allen said. “There was financial disaster, the Articles of Confederation were not working … so the 1780s were a period of great instability, despite victory. And this parchment belongs to that decade.”
One of the debates at the time was whether the country would be formed on the authority of the people or of the states.
While the original Declaration of Independence groups signatures by state, pointing to support for the power of the states, in the “Sussex Delcaration” signatures are not in order.
“This is really a symbolic way of saying we are all one people,” Allen told AP.
But despite the monumental discovery, there are still questions remaining like how the document got to the U.K.
The researchers believe it was commissioned by James Wilson, who later helped draft the Constitution and the document might have been owned by the Third Duke of Richmond.
The researchers from the Declaration Resources Project plan to test the manuscript this summer in hopes of uncovering more information about its origin, AP reported.