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Sample Documents

and the work of documentary editing

Documentary editing is one of the most labor-intensive fields of historical work and one of the most important. Documentary editions, such as The Papers of Thomas Jefferson and The Papers of George Washington, are the foundation of scholarly work. Documentary editors find manuscripts in the archives and prepare them for publication by transcribing and describing every mark on the page and annotating the contents to make them more accessible to readers. It requires deep historical knowledge, patience, creativity, the ability to find a grain of sand out of place in a desert, and a high tolerance for delayed (and sometimes denied!) gratification. For a variety of reasons, Dickinson's manuscripts are particularly difficult to work with: He was one of the best-trained and highly educated lawyers in the British American colonies, and his writings contain frequent historical and literary references, legal terminology, and obscure individuals. In addition to the usual archaisms found in eighteenth-century writing, such as the long s (as in Pennſylvania), Dickinson edited his manuscripts extensively, as can be observed in the sample document below. He made many deletions and insertions, and he frequently wrote in his own idiosyncratic shorthand, sometimes with archaic letters, such as ⅌, called a "per-sign," which stands in for per, pre, pro, pri, or præ. Thus, when Dickinson wrote ⅌⅌, he meant "proper."  


"Draft Transcript of Closing Arguments for the Smith Libel Trial, [January 21, 1758],"  1:232-68.

American Founding Documents

John Dickinson was the primary draftsman for most of America's first major state papers, from the 1765 Stamp Act Congress through the 1786 Annapolis Convention. Below are the initial pages of all extant first drafts.

The Declaration of the Stamp Act Congress, [1765].
R.R. Logan Collection, HSP.

Resolves_early draft01_edited.jpg

The First Continental Congress,
Sept. 5–Oct. 26, 1774

The Petition to the King.
John Dickinson Papers, LCP.

First Petition, Dickinson draft 001_edited.jpg

"To the Inhabitants of the Colonies."
R.R. Logan Collection, HSP.

To Inhabitants of Colonies_edited.jpg

Letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec. 
John Dickinson Papers, LCP.

Letter to Quebec, draft 005_edited.jpg

The Second Continental Congress,
May 10, 1775–March 1, 1781

A Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, July 6, 1775.

New-York Historical Society.


The Second Petition to the King (Olive Branch Petition), July 7, 1775.
Gratz Autograph Collection, HSP.

Box3 001_edited.jpg

The Articles of Confederation, [June] 1776.
R.R. Logan Collection, HSP.

6_494_Articles of Confederation01_edited.jpg
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