People were lining up inside the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue Monday to view an original copy of the Declaration of Independence -- written in Thomas Jefferson's own handwriting -- that he drafted before it was ratified on July 4, 1776.
The encased yellowed document is no larger than a sheet of regular 8- by 10-inch loose-leaf paper. It shows Jefferson's elegant, meticulous script and the underlined sentences he wrote condemning slavery that were later removed to appease the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina at the Continental Congress on July 1.
Upset that his views on slavery were excised, Jefferson made copies of his draft after the July 4 ratification of the Declaration of Independence and sent copies to several of his friends.
In his draft, Jefferson declared slavery morally wrong: " . . . the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce."
Only two copies have survived, one of which is at the library and is not on permanent display to safeguard it from light exposure.
Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, a professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where Jefferson attended, said she came in immediately when she saw the library's exhibition banner draped in front of its main entrance.
"I had to get off the bus and see it for myself," she said. "Jefferson was a great intellect. For Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to sit down and formulate a new concept of government that people have the right and responsibility to change their government is still real today."
Also on exhibit is an original copy of the Bill of Rights on parchment. The copy was sent to the states for ratification in 1789.
The library exhibit is free.
Nancy Pinkernell, 70, of Londonderry, Vt., said the exhibit is "impressive" and it dispelled the notion that Americans do not know their history.
"Today I did not see that ignorance. All I saw today was how informed people were and how they wanted to inform their children," she said.
"This is a great way to learn about American history and see it firsthand through the handwriting of Jefferson," said Ann Thorton, Andrew W. Mellon director at the library.
The exhibit runs through 4 p.m. Wednesday and is inside the Wachencheim Trustee Room, which is rarely opened to the public.The beautifully maintained walnut wall room has a 6-foot marble fireplace and plaque that reads: "The City of New York has erected this building for the free use of all the people." Underneath is a Jefferson's quote about the importance of education. "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on . . . promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man."