Presidents are accustomed to being misquoted. But in Thomas Jefferson's case things may have gone a bit far.
A 92-word excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, written in six-inch metal letters on the marble interior of the Jefferson Memorial, contains 11 errors. In three places, words are omitted. In six places, there are punctuation errors. Two words are misspelled.
The Continental Congress adopted Jefferson's declaration 206 years ago today, and more than 2 million tourists each year gaze at the famous words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: . . . ." But Jefferson had a comma after the phrase, not a colon.
The other errors:
That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,
As it appears in the Declaration, the word is "unalienable."
Among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,
This phrase should begin with the word "that" and end with a period and dash.
That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men.
There should be a comma after "rights," and the phrase should end with ellipses to indicate that many following paragraphs are omitted.
We . . . solemnly publish and declare, That these Colonies
The text reads, "That these United Colonies."
are and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States . . .
Commas should be placed after "are" and "be."
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honour.
The words "to each other" should appear after "pledge," and the text spells the final word as "honor."
Nitpicky mistakes, perhaps, but mistakes just the same.
"It's the first time I've heard about it, and I've been here quite a while," said Sandra Alley, speaking for the National Park Service, which tends the monument. A park technician who works evenings at an information booth at the monument said she was unaware of the mistakes.
Why did the architects edit the Declaration of Independence when they designed the memorial 45 years ago? The spellings "inalienable" and "honour" are those that Jefferson used in his rough draft of the document, although he or someone changed them for the final version. Perhaps the architects thought they were being particularly scholarly in using the earlier spellings.
Approval to omit some words and punctuation apparently was given to two of the architects, Otto R. Eggers and Daniel P. Higgins, who said the changes were necessary to save space. The excerpt in the memorial is carefully laid out so that the right-hand side is square, and faithful reproduction might have thrown this scheme off.