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Original copies of US Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights to be displayed in UK for first time
Page 4 of the Declaration of Independence. ©The New York Public Library.
LONDON.- Two of the most celebrated documents in American history, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, will be on display in the UK for the first time next year on loan from the US National Archives and New York Public Library. They will be displayed at the British Library as part of a landmark exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, which runs from 13 March - 1 September 2015 and is sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm.

The Declaration of Independence is loaned by New York Public Library, and is the text which Thomas Jefferson copied in his own hand in 1776, incorporating the changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to a draft version. Jefferson’s document also indicates the passages subsequently excised in Congress, notably his lengthy condemnation of slavery. The Declaration established the separation of America from Great Britain, and paved the way for the drafting of the American Constitution as we know it.

The Bill of Rights is loaned from the US National Archives, and is one of the fourteen original copies of the document produced in 1789, of which twelve are known to survive. This copy was sent to Delaware, which attached its certificate of ratification on the document and returned it to the federal government. The amendments to the Constitution proposed in the document were written by a clerk in the House of Representatives on a single sheet of parchment, and contain clauses guaranteeing Americans a number of personal freedoms and limiting the power of government.

Both of these US documents can trace constitutional influences back to Magna Carta, which was issued in 1215 by King John of England. Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law, not above it, and set out a new political order. Global law firm White & Case is sponsoring the loan of the two major US documents to the Library.

It is believed that none of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of Independence, have ever been on display in UK before, marking a national first as they are exhibited as part of the British Library’s exhibition.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will follow the journey of the Magna Carta from its medieval roots in 1215, tracking its evolution from medieval peace treaty to global rallying cry against arbitrary use of power.

Claire Breay, Lead Curator of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts at the British Library, and curator of the Magna Carta exhibition, said: “Magna Carta is one of the most famous historical documents in the world. Almost 800 years after it was first issued, it remains a potent symbol of liberty and rights around the world. We’re absolutely delighted that both the US National Archives and New York Public Library have generously agreed to lend these exceptionally important documents to the British Library. Our exhibition next year will provide a unique opportunity to see them displayed with our two original 1215 Magna Carta documents, from which they drew some of their core principles.”

David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States said: “We are pleased to have this opportunity to bring together one of our two original copies of the Bill of Rights with its British ancestor, Magna Carta, and to share it with the people of the United Kingdom in this remarkable exhibition at the British Library.”

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