Erased From The Declaration Of Independence

This week the Library of Congress announced that hyperspectral imaging has revealed words that didn't make it into a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. Host Scott Simon tells the story of a new discovery about a draft of the Declaration of Independence.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In the days before delete buttons, writers rubbed out a word they wished to change and wrote over it. This week the Library of Congress announce that hyperspectral imaging has revealed the in a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson referred to people living in Britain's American colonies as our fellow subjects.

At some point he had a better idea. He rubbed out our fellow subjects and wrote: citizens. The change was revolutionary. It announced that he and the Founding Fathers didn't just want to get King George III to change his ways and go back to being happy British subjects - they sought to create a new country.

Hyperspectral imaging is an extraordinary technology, but like all new technologies it has some risky implications. What if scientists used hyperspectral imaging to go over an early scroll of the Ten Commandments and find out there are a couple more that some early scribe wrote over? Or what if underneath thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor, they find that someone had rubbed out: until the new iPhone comes out?

What if they go further down in the Declaration of Independence and discover that Mr. Jefferson first wrote that men have certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of harpsichords? Uh-oh, misprint.

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