Declaration of Independence: The Stone Copy

May 28 – September 5, 2011

West Building Main Floor

THIS EXHIBITION IS NO LONGER ON VIEW AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY.

Overview: On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee of five to draft a statement asserting the American colonies' independence from Great Britain. John Adams and the other committee members agreed that Thomas Jefferson should undertake the task. On July 4, after debate and revision, Congress approved the document and soon ordered that the declaration be written large and legibly on parchment for official purposes, and signed by all members of Congress.

The Declaration of Independence traveled with the young government to Philadelphia, New York, and other temporary capitals. After 1800, it was brought to the newly created seat of government in the District of Columbia. James Madison was president when Secretary of State James Monroe spirited the document across the river to Virginia for safekeeping during the British invasion of the capital in August 1814.

By 1820, the parchment scroll was suffering the effects of time and exposure. To preserve its appearance, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned a Washington engraver, William J. Stone, to create a facsimile version on parchment, complete with signatures, to become the official representation of the treasured document. More than three years of work went into the creation of the copperplate, noted by a local newspaper at the time as being "executed with the greatest exactness and fidelity." It is this engraving, two hundred copies of which were distributed to surviving signers, government officials, and others, which provided the image of the Declaration of Independence that has been accepted into the popular consciousness. Today there are only 31 surviving copies of the Stone facsimile. The Stone facsimile is on view near American artist Gilbert Stuart's portraits of Declaration of Independence signers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. See these and other presidential portraits by Stuart.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Image: Gilbert Stuart, John Adams, c. 1800/1815, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans, 1954.7.1

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