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Historical Documents
The Declaration of Independence

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The Declaration of Independence

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John Trumbull's life-size painting of the First Continental Congress, assembled to sign the Declaration of Independence, was copied from a miniature (21.2 x 31.2 inches) that he began in 1787.

Trumbull, best known for his portraiture, was struck by the idea of documenting the American Revolution in a series of 13 canvasses, a project that he began in 1785. He eventually completed eight of them, mainly battle scenes.

Late in 1787, he visited Thomas Jefferson in Paris, where he painted his portrait and copied it into the The Declaration of Independence. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were painted during this same period in Paris and London. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1789, Trumbull spent four years seeking out the surviving members of the Continental Congress.

Thirty-six of the forty-seven figures in The Declaration were painted from life. Jefferson provided Trumbull with a rough floor plan and a description of the events that took place in the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House, which Trumbull used to reconstruct the scene.

In 1815, Trumbull lobbied Jefferson and Adams to commission large historical scenes for the Capitol in Washington. Two years later, Congress authorized him to produce four paintings, to be scaled up from his earlier miniatures. Trumbull enlarged his paintings of the surrenders of the British at Yorktown and Saratoga, George Washington resigning his military commission, and the signing of the Declaration, for which he was paid $32,000 -- a huge sum at the time.

The works were finished in 1836, the same year that Jefferson died, and were mounted in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building. Although they had voted as a body to commission the large-scale works, not a single individual member of Congress agreed to subscribe to an engraving that Trumbull hoped to sell. The earliest print was engraved in 1823 by Asher B. Durand.

The original miniature of The Declaration was given to Yale University, along with the rest of Trumbull's personal collection, in 1831 in exchange for an annuity. This arrangement established what was essentially the first university museum.

Image Credit: The Granger Collection, New York

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Rough draft of the Declaration Of Independence

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