Skip to Main Content

Declaration of Independence

Explore ways to learn more about the Declaration of Independence, including primary and secondary resources, and teaching tools.

Primary Sources in Special Collections

Washington University Libraries owns a substantial collection of primary sources related to early American history, including a number of documents written and signed by influential figures and books from the personal library of the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. Learn more about these resources and others using the tabs below.

Books from Thomas Jefferson's Library

Washington University Libraries houses 74 books from the library of Thomas Jefferson, the third largest collection of his books in the world. These volumes were originally acquired by the University in 1880 as part of a larger collection from the library of Joseph Coolidge, who had married Jefferson's granddaughter. However, the University was unaware that the books were part of the collection until they were discovered by a researcher in 2011.

Read more about the discovery

Watch a video about Washington University's Jefferson Collection

Search for books owned by Thomas Jefferson.


Books Owned by George Washington

The University also owns copies of Critical Reflections on the Character and Actions of Alexander the Great and The History of Rome that were originally from the library of George Washington and contain his bookplate.

Manuscripts Written By or To Founding Fathers

Washington University Libraries owns a number of letters and other documents written by or to the founding fathers and other important figures in American history. These include:

signed letter from Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Goodman concerning a runaway slave named Hercules and the harvest at Monticello.

Letters from John Adams to Elbridge Gerry in 1775 describing the proceedings of the Second Continental Congress, and an 1808 letter from Thomas Jefferson to the General Assembly of North Carolina explaining his decision not to seek a third term. These items come from the George N. Meissner Collection, which also contains autographs, letters, official documents, engravings, and a few printed items from figures of great historical significance, including items for each of the U.S. presidents through Woodrow Wilson.

Autographs, letters, official documents by John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, Stephen Douglas, Edmund Gosse, William Godwin, Jay Gould, Ulysses S. Grant, Alexander Hamilton, Rutherford B. Hayes, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Joseph Pulitzer, Theodore Roosevelt, William Tecumseh Sherman, William Makepeace Thackeray, and John Trumbull from the Frederick W. Lehmann Collection.

Autographs, letters, and official documents items by Henry Clay, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, Washington Irving, Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and Thomas Paine from the William K. Bixby Papers.