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On the 26th of August I returned to Washington, and found the President's house and public offices still burning, and learned that the British army had evacuated the city the preceding evening
As a part of the British Aeet soon afterwards ascended the Potomac, and plundered Alexandria of a large quantity of flour and tobacco, threatening Washington at the same time with a second invasion, it was not considered safe to bring the papers of the State Department back for some weeks, not, indeed, until the British feet generally had left the waters of the Chesapeake. In the meantime it was found necessary for me to proceed to Leesburg occasionally, for particular papers, to which the Secretary of State had occasion to refer in the course of his correspondence.
The next link in the history of the Declaration on parchment is found in a letter (received at the Senate, January 2, 1824) of John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, and in a resolution of Congress (of May 26th) thereupon. These say:
[D] ... an exact facsimile, engraved on copperplate 14, has been made by direction of this department, of the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, engrossed on parchment
Two hundred copies have been struck off from this plate, and are now at the office of the department, subject to the disposal of Congress.
[D] Resolved, That the two hundred copies of the Declaration of Independence, now in the Department of State, be distributed in the manner following: two copies to each of the surviving signers 15 of the Declaration of Independence; two copies to the President of the United States; two copies to the Vice President of the United States; two copies to the late President, Mr. Madison; two copies to the Marquis de Lafayette; twenty
copies for the two Houses of Congress; twelve copies for the different Departments of the Government ; two copies for the President's house; two copies for the Supreme Court room; one copy to each of the Governors of the States; and one to each branch of the Legislatures of the States; one copy to each of the Governors of the Territories of the United States; and one copy to the Legislative Council of each Territory, and the remaining copies to the different Universities and Colleges of the United States, as the President of the United States may direct.
We have also, as we shall see 18, a letter of February 25, 1840, from R. H. Lee, the grandson, which speaks of the Declaration “at Washington ”.
Then comes a letter from Daniel Webster, Secretary of State, to Henry L. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents. It bears date June 11, 1841, and says :
17 Having learned that there is in the new building appropriated to the Patent Office suitable accommodations for the safe-keeping, as well as the exhibition of the various articles now deposited in this Department, and usually exhibited to visitors ... I have directed them to be transmitted to you
You will also receive the articles enumerated in the annexed schedule, C, which have been deposited in the Department since
[January 14] 1834, or which 18, having been usually exhibited to visitors at this Department, may be interesting to those calling at the Patent Office.
6. The Original Declaration of Independence
On February 6, 1877, a letter was written from the Department of State, signed by Secretary Hamilton Fish,
to Zachariah Chandler, Secretary of the Interior, which reads :
19 It appears from a letter of my predecessor, Mr. Webster
that, for the reasons therein set forth, certain articles which had previously been lodged in this Department, were transferred to the custody of the Patent Office, which was then under the supervision of the Secretary of State. The connection of this Department with that office was severed by the act of Congress of the 3 of March 1849, creating the Department of the Interior, and the functions of the Secretary of State in respect to Patents were devolved upon the Secretary of the Interior, but the articles transferred to the Patent Office above adverted to were not returned to this Department.
This Department now occupies the new, fire-proof and spacious edifice which has been constructed for its use, and it is considered that it would be preferable for such of the articles which were sent to the Patent Office as are records or papers (the custody of which it is believed is by the Statute intrusted to this Department,) should be returned here for future custody.
I would consequently request the return of the original Declaration of Independence ...
I have consulted with the President, and have conferred verbally with yourself on this subject, and in pursuance of your suggestion, I have submitted this application to the President, who has endorsed his approval thereon, and his authorization of the return of the documents referred to.
Below Fish's signature is the following:
Executive Mansion, February 6, 1877. The custody of the original Declaration of Independence appearing to be by law placed with the Secretary of State, I approve the request made by him for their return to the Department
and hereby authorize such return to be made by the Hon. the Secretary of the Interior.
U. S. Grant
The letter (in reply), returning the Declaration on parchment to the Department of State, is signed by Chandler and bears date March 3d. It says:
[S] 1 ... forward, herewith, the original Declaration of Independence, and the Commission of General George Washington, as Commander-in-Chief.
Compliance with your request relative to these papers, was delayed by an effort on the part of prominent citizens of Philadelphia to have them retained permanently in Independence Hall, where they were placed during the Centennial Exhibition.
After its return to the Department of State, the Declaration on parchment, for many years, was enclosed in a cabinet 20 on the eastern side of the Library, where now is a facsimile of it.
Since April 23, 1894, it has reposed in a steel safe 21 in the same room.
The transfer was ordered, because the light 22 was fading it rapidly.
At the present time, the heavy handwriting of Hancock is scarcely visible; and only a few of the names can be plainly read.23