Helen Stoller (American, b. 1915); Collage.

The Williams College Museum of Art Presents A Reading of the Founding Documents

For immediate release: June 22, 2011

The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) is pleased to present A Reading of the Founding Documents, an annual Williamstown tradition celebrating America.  Actors of the Williamstown Theatre Festival will read the Declaration of Independence and the British reply on Monday, July 4 at 1:30 p.m. The museum, which is normally closed on Mondays, will be open for this special event from noon to 3 p.m. Robert Volz, the Custodian of the Chapin Library, will be available in the Museum after the reading to explain and answer questions concerning the Founding Documents. Admission is free and families are encouraged to attend. The event will take place rain or shine.

WCMA is the temporary home of Williams College’s collection of documents relating to the founding of the United States of America. Normally on display in the Chapin Rare Book Library, the collection includes extremely rare copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States as well as important copies of the Articles of Confederation, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist, among others. These documents will be on view at WCMA during the college’s renovation of the Chapin Library, scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2014.

The Founding Documents are currently part of the exhibition Don’t Fence U.S. In: Crossing Boundaries in American Art, one of the eight exhibits included with Reflections on a Museum, WCMA’s recently completed reinstallation project.  The exhibition focuses on the many ways that art expresses the power of boundaries: making, breaking, crossing, drawing, and erasing.

The Founding Documents
The list of Founding Documents on loan from Chapin Library to the museum include:

• The Declaration of Independence, printed in Philadelphia by John Dunlap, July 4, 1776, one of twenty-six known copies of the first printing of the Declaration as issued by the Continental Congress. This precedes by one month the ceremonial signed hand-written copy now at the National Archives;

• The British Reply to the Declaration of Independence, given by Viscount Admiral Richard Howe (1726-1799) and his brother, General William Howe (1729-1814). This is one of only six copies known to survive of a reply to the Declaration by the King’s official representatives in North America;

• The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, printed in Lancaster, Penn. in November 1777, when the Continental Congress was on the run, because of the British occupation of Philadelphia. This is one of nine surviving copies of the official printing of the Articles and is preserved in its original blue paper wrappers;

• The Constitution of the United States, printed in Philadelphia by Dunlap and Claypoole, probably on August 11, 1787. It is known as the “Committee of Style Draft,” printed on four leaves, with wide margins for notes by delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Fourteen copies survive of approximately sixty that were printed. This copy records on the printed side actions in the final days of debate, all in the handwriting of George Mason, the senior member of the Virginia delegation to the Convention. On the reverse Mason has written his famous “Objections to This Constitution of Government” that directly or indirectly foreshadowed thirteen future amendments to the Constitution;

• The Bill of Rights, a draft version, printed by Thomas Greenleaf in New York, August 24, 1789. It is set out as seventeen amendments to the Constitution, proposed by the first elected members of the House of Representatives. Only a sufficient number were printed so that each of the twenty-six Senators could have a copy. The copy on view is one of only four that are known to be preserved;

• Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America, printed in the late summer of 1789 in New York, where the U.S. Congress first met. It prints the twelve articles of amendment articles passed by Congress for consideration by the States (the first and second were not ratified), as given in the first printed Acts of the U.S. Congress;

• The Federalist, published in New York in the summer of 1788. This is the first edition, presented to George Washington by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who were the principle authors of the eighty-five essays supporting the terms of the new Constitution. Washington’s bold signature and Chippendale-style bookplate appear in each volume.