Today is the day to honor our country's independence and to pay homage to the man whose statue stands in the Jefferson Memorial -- the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and later the nation's third president.
The words Thomas Jefferson quill-penned in Philadelphia in those days before word processing are, for the most part, there for us to read on the inside walls of his memorial.
Back in 1982, a reporter for this newspaper wrote a piece that spotlighted discrepancies between the words on the wall and the Declaration itself, and asked rhetorically, "Why did the architects edit the Declaration . . . . ?"The reported answers weren't very convincing.
Now, on this 209th anniversary of our nation, Brant Coopersmith of Washington has produced a persuasive explanation.
The Declaration as signed and now displayed at the Archives refers to the "unalienable" rights of all people, but the memorial contains the word "inalienable." Why?
When, in the 1940s, the memorial was being proposed, Sen. Elbert Thomas (D-Utah), the chairman of the committee considering its authorization, decided that -- whatever the final edited version of the Declaration may have said -- the words on the memorial would be Jefferson's original.
Jefferson wrote "inalienable," and someone -- perhaps a scribe -- changed it in the published version to "unalienable."
But the most significant change from Jefferson's own words, Coopersmith said, was ordained by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He insisted on including in the memorial's inscription a phrase added to Jefferson's version by the Continental Congress: " . . . a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence . . . . "
So, by Coopersmith's account, the first part of the wall mirrors Jefferson but the final part violates his version.
Coopersmith communicated his concern to the now-deceased senator and former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey. In a letter dated March 25, 1969, two months after leaving the vice presidency, Humphrey wrote Coopersmith:
"Why don't just the two of us some dark night steal out to the Jefferson Memorial with a crowbar and remove the un-Jeffersonian words ourselves. I volunteer to hold the lantern and look out for cops." Timely Remembrance
A memory: My own first Fourth of July in Washington was 35 years ago tonight. A bachelor, I lived at the time near Dupont Circle. My kid brother, then 11, was visiting. We went to the Mall for the fireworks. As they ended, a thunderstorm broke. We ran for and boarded a Mount Pleasant trolley on 14th Street. The aroma was that of a car full of just-bathed shaggy dogs. Unpleasant at the time? Yes. But in memory, plain warm nostalgia.