History is always being written and re-written.

There’s perhaps no more excruciating example than a draft copy of the Declaration of Independence currently on display at the New York Public Library.

The draft is one of several copies written in the hand of author Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson worked on the Declaration between June 11th and June 28th of 1776 before sending it to a committee including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston.

During a debate that occurred between July 1 and July 3, the group removed a 168-word passage in which Jefferson condemned the slave trade as a “cruel war against human nature.”

Decades later, Jefferson later blamed representatives from South Carolina and Georgia, along with some Northern merchants, for pressuring the committee to remove the section.

Days after the committee decision, Jefferson sent several friends copies of his original draft that included the deleted passages. There are four surviving examples of the so-called “Fair copies.”

Jefferson underlined the portions that were eliminated.

So you can literally see a version of the Declaration of Independence with words written by Jefferson that condemn slavery and then his pen strokes cutting them out.

The exhibit notes, but doesn’t try to explain the contradiction that Jefferson over the course of his life enslaved 600 people, including children he had with Sally Hemings.

There is something unexpectedly powerful about seeing the document. It’s connects you in a direct way to the past and to the people who made those decisions.

It’s heartbreaking and tragic.

The document is now on display as part of the Polonsky Exhibition of the New York Public Library’s Treasures, which includes a Gutenberg Bible, one of Shakespeare’s First Folios and the desk where Charlies Dickens wrote Hard Times.