Just in time for Independence Day, The Morgan Library & Museum (225 Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets – 212-685-0008) is exhibiting several objects from its noted holdings of important Americana. The items were chosen to reflect the country’s achievements and struggles as it marks the Fourth of July holiday. The works are on view in the museum’s historic 1906 McKim building, and will remain on view through September 8.
On view is Washington’s striking life mask, a plaster cast made by noted French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in preparation for his clay bust and final marble life-size sculpture of Washington. Made when the President was fifty-three, the life mask is unique and represents his truest likeness.
Also on view is a rare fragment of Washington’s inaugural address draft. The speech he delivered from the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in April 1789 differed significantly from the contents of the earlier draft in which Washington praised the Constitution’s “balances arising from the distribution of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial powers” and declared that “no government before introduced among mankind ever contained so many checks and such efficacious restraints to prevent it from degenerating into any species of oppression.”
Another Presidential writing on view, this one from James Madison, reminds us of a darker time in American history. Writing to the Marquis de Lafayette in November 1820—by which time slavery had become the most divisive issue in the republic—Madisonobserved, “All these perplexities develop more & more, the dreadful fruitfulness of the original sin of the African trade.”
Noah Webster spent twenty-seven years and learned twenty-six languages in preparation for his work familiar to all Americans, An American Dictionary of the English Language.On display is the manuscript for Webster’s Dictionary, which was finally published in 1828 when he was seventy years old. His was the first major American dictionary, and the last ever to be compiled by a single individual.
From the time he graduated from Harvard College in 1837 until shortly before his death at the age of forty-four, Henry David Thoreau filled volume after volume of blank books covered in marbled paper with his observations, thoughts, and revelations, firmly believing that a closely examined life would yield infinite riches. Thoreau later used a slightly revised version of the journal entry on view in his “Natural History of Massachusetts” essay for the Transcendentalist magazine The Dial.
To learn more about the items and the exhibition, and to see a complete list of the 29 items included in the exhibition, click here.