two men look at a document on a table while another points to it.

Jefferson Makes a Declaration

By Ginny A. Roth

Welcome to Circulating Now’s weekly Photo Feature. Every week we will feature an image from the History of Medicine Division (HMD) historical collections. Our images will include portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and other graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dating from the 15th to 21st century. Featured images can be found either in HMD’s Prints and Photographs collection, which houses over 150,000 items, or in the Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Collection, home to over 600,000 printed works.  So check back here at Circulating Now each week as we take you through a visual journey of the vast historical collections at the National Library of Medicine.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson in middle age
Thomas Jefferson, ca. 1855
National Library of Medicine #B015716

The Fourth of July wouldn’t be the same without fireworks, cookouts, and parades.  But amidst the festivities it may be easy to forget the real reason we celebrate. On July 4th, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence who led the Committee of Five including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, drafted the Declaration between June 11th and June 28th, 1776. The document announced that the 13 American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire.  Fifty-six men signed the Declaration, among them five physicians: Josiah Bartlett (New Hampshire), Lyman Hall (Georgia), Benjamin Rush (Pennsylvania), Matthew Thornton (New Hampshire), and Oliver Wolcott (Connecticut). Since 1776 the adoption of the Declaration has been marked nationally by annual celebrations in honor of liberty and freedom.

The Declaration of Independence is a cherished and historic symbol of the birth of our nation, and considered by historians to be one of Thomas Jefferson’s major achievements. This engraving of Jefferson by artist T. Knight has a vignette below the portrait of Jefferson showing a draft of the Declaration to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.

Three men discuss something on a table between them
Jefferson showing a draft of the Declaration to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams
National Library of Medicine #B015716 (detail)

portrait of Ginny outside Ginny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

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