The Library of Congress has discovered the only known handwritten draft of the Bill of Rights, a document that offers new insights into how American civil liberties came to be, a library official said yesterday.
The unsigned four-page document, which had gone unnoticed amid the library's volumes of James Madison's papers, was discovered by James C. Hutson, chief of the library's manuscript division. Madison played a leading role in the adoption of the amendments that became the Bill of Rights.
"People obviously had seen it before, but probably hadn't realized what it was," Hutson said. "This is the only handwritten copy of the Bill of Rights that exists."
The document, dated July 1789, was written by Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman. The authorship was established in a check of handwriting samples at the library, Hutson said.
Sherman's proposed list of rights to be granted to Americans contained 11 provisions, as opposed to the 10 eventually adopted. Some of Sherman's ideas differed substantially from what was ratified by the states, Hutson said.
For example, Sherman wanted to include a guarantee of the separation of powers, his provision for a militia did not include the right to bear arms, he specified the right to acquire property, and he wanted to prevent Congress from enacting any monopolies.
Other proposals in the Sherman draft did emerge in the Bill of Rights, including clauses to protect freedom of the press and free speech, Hutson said.
Hutson said he discovered the document about six months ago while doing research, and only had time to come back and study it in detail in the past month. It includes three pages of proposed amendments, followed by a final page identifying it as proposed amendments to the Constitution.
He said the document was in "fine condition," and written in neat script on good quality rag paper.
Hutson said the document probably will remain in the library's manuscript division.