1/19/08 - 1/19/09

The exhibition presents works of American Art from the museum’s collection alongside a group of Founding Documents, creating a dialogue between picture and text, American art and American history, and the individual and institutional change. The exhibition includes work by Elihu Vedder (American, 1836-1923), John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1815), Sarah Fisher Ames (American, 1817-1901), and William Jennys (American, 1774-1859) alongside rare early printed copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States as well as important copies of the Articles of Confederation, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist, among others.

Normally on display in the Chapin Rare Book Library, these documents will shed new light on works that take American government as their theme. For example, sermons by Reverend Samuel Cooper will be shown with the portrait of that revolutionary preacher by John Singleton Copley, a friend but also a loyalist who would relocate to England before the start of the Revolutionary War.

The Founding Documents include:

  • The Declaration of Independence (Philadelphia: Printed by John Dunlap, July 4, 1776), one of twenty-six known copies of the first printing of the Declaration as issued by the Continental Congress, preceding by one month the ceremonial signed manuscript copy now at the National Archives.
  • The British Reply to the Declaration of Independence [Viscount Admiral Richard Howe (1726–1799) and General William Howe (1729–1814)], one of only six copies known to survive of a reply to the Declaration by King George III’s official representatives in North America.
  • The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (Lancaster, Pa.: Francis Bailey, 1777), one of nine surviving copies of the official first printing of the Articles, preserved in its original wrappers.
  • The Constitution of the United States (Philadelphia: Dunlap and Claypoole, 1787), Committee of Style draft on four leaves, one of fourteen surviving copies (of sixty) from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 with annotations on the printed side recording actions in the final days of debate, and “Objections to This Constitution of Government” on the reverse, by George Mason of Virginia.
  • The Bill of Rights, House of Representatives draft version (New York: T. Greenleaf, August 24, 1789), one of three known copies of the official printing, setting out the seventeen articles passed by the House before consideration by the Senate.
  • Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America (New York: Childs and Swaine, 1789), the twelve articles passed by Congress for consideration by the States (the first and second were not ratified), as given in the first printed Acts of the U.S. Congress.
  • The Federalist (New-York: J. and A. M’Lean, 1788), a First edition, presented to George Washington by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, with Washington’s signatures and bookplates.