Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin O. Tyler to Thomas Jefferson, 6 May 1818

From Benjamin O. Tyler

City of Washington May 6th 1818

Venerable and Respected Sir

I received your very interesting letter of the 26th of March 4 days after date, for which I return you my most grateful thanks. At the request of several of your particular friends in this place I have taken the liberty to publish it, for whatever emanates on a National subject, from the pen of Columbia’s Illustrious Statesman and Patriot will ever excite the attention of his fellow citizens. I hope therefore I have not taken an unwarrantable liberty. I have completed the publication of the Declaration of Independence and it is the first and only copy of facsimilies of the signatures ever copied from the original or1 published. At the Destruction of the public buildings by the British, the Magna Charta of American Freedom was very nigh being destroyed, it being about the last thing Mr King (the Gentleman who had charge of the American Archives2 in the Department of State) saved as he was leaving the office. At that time I believe there never had been a [cor]rect copy printed, the first correct copy printed is in the late [edi]tion of the laws of the United States, taken from the original manuscript by J. B. Colvin Esqr. Had it have been destroyed at that time the signatures of those American Statesmen and patriots would have been forever lost. It will ever be a source of the highest gratification to me, that I have been able to execute and multiply such a number of authentic copies, in a cheap and elegant style, that it may be in the power of almost every American to possess the charter of their freedom and thereby preserve it entire for the benefit of millions yet unborn—I have enclosed you a copy on parchment on a roller, which I request of you to accept as a testimony of my just respect and esteem for one of the most distinguished and undeviating supporters of the liberty and Independence of my native country.

That your life may be as long and happy, as it has been glorious and useful to your country, is the3 sincere prayer of your much obliged

and obedient Servant

Benjamin O. Tyler

RC (MHi); torn at seal; with Tyler’s facsimile of TJ’s signature, followed by “Esquire,” at foot of text serving as internal address; endorsed by TJ as received 14 May 1818, but recorded in SJL as received the previous day. Enclosure: Tyler’s print of the Declaration of Independence, reproduced elsewhere in this volume.

Tyler had issued a proposal dated Washington, 12 Feb. 1818, “for publishing by subscription, a splendid edition of the DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE,” which reads: “COPIED from the original in the Secretary of State’s Office, with the fac similies of the signatures of all those patriotic defenders of liberty who signed it, ‘at a time that tried men’s souls,’ and mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to support it.
 It is a fact, which very few are aware of, that there has never been a correct copy of this important document published. In the original it is headed thus:
 ‘In Congress July 4th, 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.’ But in the Journals of the old Congress (as well as several other inaccuracies, omissions &c. from which our printed copies are taken) the preamble is thus printed: ‘A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled.’
 It must be obvious to every one, that an authentic copy should be published, as it is [an important state paper, from which more public good has emanated than any other ever composed by man. The object of] the present publication is to present to the American people a correct and elegant copy of that instrument, which secured to their fathers a deathless name, and to them extends liberty and happiness. Is it a concern unworthy the descendants of those sages who declared us free, and of those heroes who achieved our Independence, to make the charter of their freedom a decoration for the parlour or an ornament for the drawing-room? As such the publisher designs it, that every American who duly appreciates the value of liberty and independence can point his children to it, and say, ‘there hangs the pledge which secured your liberty and rescued you from the jaws of tyranny.’ The publisher, in order to give it its proper construction and emphasis, has been particular to copy every capital as in the original; observing the same punctuation, and executed the emphatical words in a great variety of ornamental hands, and is not only a correct copy, but an elegant specimen of penmanship, and engraving designed and executed by the publisher, (a native American,) in the most beautiful manner after the style of his Eulogy to the memory of the illustrious Washington, and engraved by Peter Maverick, Esq. of New York, a celebrated engraver, (also a native American) in whose hands it has been several months; the whole being truly American, and worthy the patronage of every friend of liberty and the ‘Rights of Man.’
 The following certificate of the Hon. Richard Rush, at that time acting Secretary of State, (written by him,) with the seal of the Secretary of State’s Office attached to it, will be engraved on the plate in a fac similie of Mr. Rush’s hand writing, as a testimony of its authenticity.

Department of State, September 10, 1817.

THE foregoing copy of the Declaration of Independence has been colated with the original instrument and found correct. I have myself examined the signatures to each. Those executed by Mr. Tyler, are curiously exact imitations, so much so, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the closest scrutiny to distinguish them were it not for the hand of time, from the originals.


Tyler concluded that the publication was “now engraving on a plate 24 by 30 inches, the same size as the original, and will be ready for delivery to subscribers in April next, at five dollars per copy, payable on delivery.
 A few copies will be printed on parchment at seven dollars, those who prefer them will please add the word parchment to their names” (broadside pasted into subscription book in ViU: Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence Collection, torn and chipped at crease, with missing text supplied from Georgetown National Messenger, 1 Apr. 1818; reprinted in National Messenger [and later in other newspapers] with additional note: “It is hoped that printers generally through the U.S. who feel disposed to encourage this great National work, will give the above one or two insertions in their respective papers”).

Tyler’s subscription book at ViU contains more than one hundred pages of subscriber signatures, with TJ’s at the head of the list, followed by James Madison’s. Tyler visited Monticello sometime near the end of July 1818. He may have arrived just prior to the 31 July 1818 departure of TJ and Madison for Rockfish Gap and obtained both signatures at that time (Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jane H. Nicholas Randolph, [ca. 31 July 1818] [NcU: NPT]). Immediately following Madison’s signature are those of three sitting cabinet members, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and John C. Calhoun. Included in the book is an additional MS prospectus and subscription list for a proposed volume entitled “A Naval Monument,” which was to include portraits of American naval heroes, the United States Navy’s coat of arms, and images of great American sea battles; and a nine-page section, keyed to selected names on both lists, providing “Remarks” on subscribers, including, when available, their birth and death dates and the significant political offices they held. Both TJ’s and Madison’s entries include their service as United States president and their death dates.

1Preceding five words interlined.

2Manuscript: “Archiives.”

3Manuscript: “is the is the.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John Quincy; and subscriptions search
  • Calhoun, John Caldwell; and subscriptions search
  • Colvin, John B.; as State Department clerk search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; and Declaration of Independence search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; journal of search
  • Crawford, William Harris; and subscriptions search
  • Declaration of Independence; published search
  • Declaration of Independence; signers of search
  • Declaration of Independence; TJ as author of search
  • Eulogium Sacred to the Memory of the Illustrious George Washington (B. O. Tyler) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Declaration of Independence search
  • King, Josias; as State Department clerk search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and subscriptions search
  • Maverick, Peter; as engraver search
  • Navy Department, U.S.; proposed work on search
  • Rush, Richard; as acting secretary of state search
  • subscriptions, for publications; Declaration of Independence search
  • Tyler, Benjamin Owen; engraving of Declaration of Independence by search
  • Tyler, Benjamin Owen; Eulogium Sacred to the Memory of the Illustrious George Washington search
  • Tyler, Benjamin Owen; letters from search
  • Tyler, Benjamin Owen; prospectus for work on U.S. Navy by search
  • Tyler, Benjamin Owen; subscription book of search
  • War of1812; British destruction in Washington search
  • Washington, George; Eulogium Sacred to the Memory of the Illustrious George Washington (B. O. Tyler) search