Hyperspectral images of a draft of the Declaration of Independence reveal that it originally used the word ‘subjects’ instead of ‘citizens’ at a critical juncture. After writing “our fellow subjects,” author Thomas Jefferson scrubbed it out and replaced it with the familiar alternative.
To the Library of Congress, whose Preservation Research and Testing Division analyzed the document with the latest high-resolution camera equipment, it illustrates an important moment: “when [Jefferson] reconsidered his choice of words and articulated the recognition that the people of the fledgling United States of America were no longer subjects of any nation, but citizens of an emerging democracy.”
The sensitivities surrounding the revelation are obvious, as is its humor. Perhaps Jefferson simply forgot, in his haste to draft the document that would shape his nation’s future. Or maybe we’re seeing a decisive instant, a decision about that future’s very nature being made in ink.
The Library of Congress often discovers unusual things while examining ancient artifacts. Especially maps and documents, where modern tech sees what the naked eye can’t: corrections, changes, and severely faded or damaged elements.
The correction is in the part of the declaration concerning grievances against King George III.
“It had been a spine-tingling moment when I was processing data late at night and realized there was a word underneath citizens,” said scientist Fenella France, who revealed the correction at the LoC’s labs, in a press release. “Then I began the tough process of extracting the differences between spectrally similar materials to elucidate the lost text.”
According to the Library, the correction was suspected in the past (similar language exists in state constitutions) but not demonstrable until now.
Photos: Library of Congress.