NEW YORK, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Thirty rarely seen original documents that had important bearing on American history from the National Archives in Washington have begun a unique national tour with a three-month exhibition at the New York Public Library.
The exhibition, "American Originals," is being accompanied in New York only by an exhibit of Americana from the library's own collection. The archives also sent the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, to New York for display for four days only due to its fragility.
The traveling exhibition is a result of a new policy by the National Archives to make more of its treasures available to the public outside the nation's capital.
After the exhibition closes in New York Jan. 5, it will move on to Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City, Mo., San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Hartford, Conn., ending its tour in May 2004.The Emancipation Proclamation will join each stop for a brief period.
Handsomely shown in the library's neo-classic, marble-walled Gottesman Hall, the exhibit includes a copy of the presidential inaugural address of George Washington in Washington's own hand and a draft for the inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, the latter notable for its admonition, "And so my fellow Americans ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Readers today, in a time of global war against terrorism, will find special meaning in another part of the address in which Kennedy called on Americans, then involved in a cold war struggle with the Soviet Union, "to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle ... against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself."
The Kennedy document, containing 15 statements he used in the final address, seems hastily written with many cross-out edits on lined, yellow pad paper, in contrast to Washington's final copy of his address penned in his elegant handwriting style with only a few words underlined for emphasis.
These and other documents provide the public with an unusual opportunity to gain insights into the thoughts and motives of historical figures as diverse as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Leon Trotsky, The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Susan B. Anthony. Other exhibits focus on events rather than personalities, such as the original deed from the French government turning over the Statue of Liberty to the American people on July 4, 1884.
The most important of these strictly historical documents is the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, signed by Robert Livingston and James Monroe in Paris in 1803, which added 828,00 square miles of French territory west of the Mississippi to the United States for roughly four cents an acre.
Among the earliest documents on display is the official voting record of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a journal of the convention's secretary which records in pages of cramped handwriting the complexity of the process that produced the nation's governing charter that is still in effect today. It shows that Rhode Island was the only state not participating.
The Susan B. Anthony document is in the form of a petition protesting her imprisonment for "illegal voting" in the presidential election of 1872, the first such election to have a female candidate, Victoria Woodhull.
The Martin Luther King document is a written response to allegations by the city of Memphis, Tenn., that he and his associates had been engaged in a conspiracy to incite riots and other breaches of the peace in 1968 during a strike of the city's sanitation employees. King claimed he had led a peaceful demonstration on behalf of the strikers.
Perhaps the most significant document from a viewpoint of world events is the letter written by Leon Trotsky to U.S. Ambassador to Russia David Francis on Nov. 17, 1917, informing him that the Soviet Union had been established to replace the Czarist regime. Trotsky was commissar of foreign affairs for the new government.
Or again, what could be more significant than Thomas A. Edison's Nov. 1, 1879, patent application for "improvement in electric lamps?" He received the patent embodying the principles of the incandescent lamp that paved the way for universal use of electric light less than three months later from the Patent and Trademark Office. It is marked Patent No. 223,898.
The only humorous document on display is a letter written by Lincoln to the King Mongkut of Siam in 1862 declining the offer of a gift of elephants. The president explained, "My political jurisdiction does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant."
The library's complimentary show, "The Public's Treasures," is made up mostly of material related to public events or to historic eras. Some 170 items are included in the show that runs through Jan. 26.
They are as diverse as a news sheet published by immigrants on Ellis Island, an account of Lincoln's death by the first doctor on the assassination scene at Ford's Theater, and a copy of "New York: Start to Finish," a photo album that allows the viewer to stroll down Fifth Avenue in 1911.
Other items on display are one of 11 surviving copies of the first book published in the United States, the 1640 edition of the Bay Psalm Book printed in Cambridge, Mass., Revolutionary War watercolors by a British officer, Thomas Davies, Mark Twain's manuscript of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," and a 1929 limited edition book of paintings by Kiowa Indian artists of Oklahoma.
One of the rarest displays is an ink and watercolor scroll drawing of Commodore Matthew Perry's 1853 arrival in Uraga Harbor aboard the USS Susquehanna, in which the sailing vessel looks for all the world like an obstinate snub-nose whale. Thus was Japan opened to the west as witnessed by an unknown Japanese artist who was probably not too enthusiastic about the turn of events.
A companion volume to the National Archives exhibit has been published titled "American Originals" (University of Washington Press, 124 pages, $17.95).