Historical Notes: John Trumbull's masterpiece, The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4th, 1776, was begun at Jefferson's residence in Paris.1 Trumbull later reported, "I began the composition of the Declaration of Independence, with the assistance of his [Jefferson's] information and advice."2 Jefferson contributed a firsthand description of the Assembly Room and made a rough sketch of it. Later, Trumbull painted Jefferson from life for the Declaration, and made three miniatures of the likeness. The committee responsible for the draft —John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—was depicted to the right of center.
Trumbull dedicated himself to portraying from life as many of the forty-eight signers as he could. Consequently, the original painting, located in the Yale University Art Gallery, was not completed until 1820. The young artist Asher B. Durand was selected to make the engraving, which was published in 1823. The small number of subscribers greatly disappointed Trumbull, who had worked for more than thirty-three years on it.
Jefferson's engraving of The Declaration of Independence was exhibited in the Entrance Hall at Monticello. Reverend Henry Thweatt, a visitor, wrote that Jefferson was happy to explain the scene.
In a free and somewhat playful manner as I said—"and how Mr. Jefferson—did you feel amid—all being as you were—the author of the instrument—being thus signed by all"—why—my son—(he very pleasantly replied with an arch look)—"pretty much as you may imagine with a halter around his neck to be hung—for such—doubtless would have been my fate—and that too of all who signed this instrument—had we been taken by the British."3