“We hold these truths to be self-evident” – original copies of US Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights to be displayed in UK for first time at British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition next year

Magna Carta (c) Joseph Turp

Two of the most celebrated documents in American history, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, will be on display in the UK for the first time next year on loan from the US National Archives and New York Public Library. They will be displayed at the British Library as part of a landmark exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, which runs from 13 March - 1 September 2015 and is sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm.

The Declaration of Independence is loaned by New York Public Library, and is the text which Thomas Jefferson copied in his own hand in 1776, incorporating the changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to a draft version. Jefferson’s document also indicates the passages subsequently excised in Congress, notably his lengthy condemnation of slavery. The Declaration established the separation of America from Great Britain, and paved the way for the drafting of the American Constitution as we know it.

The Bill of Rights is loaned from the US National Archives, and is one of the fourteen original copies of the document produced in 1789, of which twelve are known to survive. This copy was sent to Delaware, which attached its certificate of ratification on the document and returned it to the federal government. The amendments to the Constitution proposed in the document were written by a clerk in the House of Representatives on a single sheet of parchment, and contain clauses guaranteeing Americans a number of personal freedoms and limiting the power of government.

Both of these US documents can trace constitutional influences back to Magna Carta, which was issued in 1215 by King John of England. Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law, not above it, and set out a new political order. Global law firm White & Case is sponsoring the loan of the two major US documents to the Library.

It is believed that none of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of Independence, have ever been on display in UK before, marking a national first as they are exhibited as part of the British Library’s exhibition.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will follow the journey of the Magna Carta from its medieval roots in 1215, tracking its evolution from medieval peace treaty to global rallying cry against arbitrary use of power.

Claire Breay, Lead Curator of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts at the British Library, and curator of the Magna Carta exhibition, said:

“Magna Carta is one of the most famous historical documents in the world. Almost 800 years after it was first issued, it remains a potent symbol of liberty and rights around the world. We’re absolutely delighted that both the US National Archives and New York Public Library have generously agreed to lend these exceptionally important documents to the British Library. Our exhibition next year will provide a unique opportunity to see them displayed with our two original 1215 Magna Carta documents, from which they drew some of their core principles.”

David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States said:

“We are pleased to have this opportunity to bring together one of our two original copies of the Bill of Rights with its British ancestor, Magna Carta, and to share it with the people of the United Kingdom in this remarkable exhibition at the British Library.”

Tony Marx, President of the New York Public Library, commented:

“The bedrock of our modern-day society is rooted in the historic documents of the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights – the result of brave citizens who understood the importance of change and reform.”

“The Library is proud to join together with the British Library and the US National Archives in this extraordinary exhibition, which provides us with the rare opportunity to share the handwritten words of Thomas Jefferson, a great statesman and founding father of the United States.”

Linklaters’ Chairman and Senior Partner Robert Elliott commented:

“We are delighted to sponsor this exhibition and bring together three of the most important documents ever created. The fundamental principles of liberty and human rights expressed in them are as resonant and relevant today as they were when they were first written.”

Notes to Editors:

As well as running its landmark exhibition, the British Library is also working in partnership with Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral to unify the four original surviving Magna Carta manuscripts from 1215 for the first time in history in February 2015, in an event sponsored by Linklaters. You can find out more about this event via the British Library’s website here.

Since 2003, the Bill of Rights belonging to the US National Archives has been periodically exhibited at the Delaware Public Archives in Dover, Delaware and will next be on view there in 2016.

The New York Public Library recently displayed the Declaration of Independence from June 27 to July 3 in honour of Independence Day on July 4.

For more information contact:


The US National Archives is an independent federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of the United States, its government and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers and presidential libraries, and online at www.archives.gov.

The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.

Linklaters LLP is a leading global law firm, supporting clients in achieving their strategies wherever they do business. We use our expertise and resources to help clients pursue opportunities and manage risk across emerging and developed markets around the world.

White & Case LLP is a leading global law firm with lawyers in 39 offices in 26 countries. We provide counsel and representation in virtually every area of law that affects cross-border business. Our clients value the breadth of our global network and the depth of our US, English and local law capabilities.

The Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee is charged by the Magna Carta Trust to co-ordinate activities, raise the profile of the anniversary and deliver a number of key national and international aspirations. These, and much else, can be found at www.magnacarta800th.com   For more information please contact Mark Gill, Executive Director, MC 800th Committee, at markgill@magnacarta800th.com.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.  



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