Somehow, a second handwritten parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence wound up not in the United States, but England.
Two Harvard researchers, who had announced the finding in April, Thursday tried to explain why. It has to do with Thomas Paine.
Emily Sneff and Danielle Allen’s current theory as to how the copy ended up in England is that this second copy, known as the Sussex Declaration, was originally held by Charles, the Third Duke of Richmond. Measuring 24 by 30 inches, the Sussex Declaration is the same size as the first copy of the Declaration of Independence, but oriented horizontally.
Charles was known as the “Radical Duke” because he once supported the colonies’ independence.
Before coming to this country, Paine was a tax collector in Lewes, a town in Sussex, which was under the Duke of Richmond. Paine also knew the owners of a Lewes hotel who had business dealings with the duke.
The theory goes that the duke introduced Paine to Benjamin Franklin. When Paine subsequently moved to America, he worked with Franklin and declaration signer James Wilson on the Constitutional Convention.
The current working theory is that Paine wanted to work closely with the duke after returning to Europe, given the duke’s sentiment towards American independence.
“He was moving in similar political circles to Paine and he supported radicals, but he [later] moved away from that,” Allen said. “Our suggestion is that Paine, who was collaborating with these reformers in the early 1790s, had been working with them to try to recruit Richmond back into the project of reform.”
They believe this might have been a moment when he would have shared something like the declaration with the duke.
“There are also other plausible pathways,” Allen said. To that end Allen and Sneff say they plan to continue to investigate the link between Paine and the duke.
“We still have so much work to do on Paine and (the duke) to be honest,” said Allen after the presentation. “That’s the sort of number one thing to pursue.” The two will travel to England this summer, and plan to visit the duke’s library in hopes of finding further evidence connecting him with Paine.
This second copy — dubbed the Sussex Declaration because of the area of England where it was found — continues to intrigue researchers as they study who commissioned the document and why, as well as how and when it ended up at the West Sussex Record Office in the city of Chichester.
It is still at that office today.
Contact: Katherine Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org