Philanthropist and businessman David M. Rubenstein joined Newseum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst the evening of July 7, 2016, for a discussion on the significance and legacy of the American declaration of freedom.
In her opening remarks, Freedom Forum chair and chief executive officer Jan Neuharth thanked Rubenstein for his support of the Newseum and for his commitment to preserving America’s history. “David’s leadership and patriotic philanthropy have been transformative for Washington and our nation,” she said.
The program marked the opening week of the Newseum’s new exhibit, “1776 – Breaking News: Independence.” The centerpiece of the exhibit is a rare July 6, 1776, edition of The Pennsylvania Evening Post, the first newspaper to publish the newly adopted Declaration of Independence. On loan from Rubenstein, the four-page artifact allows visitors to see the historic text as Americans first saw it — as front-page news. It is one of only 19 known copies of that historic newspaper.
“I think the Declaration of Independence has become a symbol of the creed under which our country was theoretically established, which is that all men — and obviously all women — are created equal,” said Rubenstein, remarking on what drew him to the artifact.
After reciting the preamble to the declaration, he said that the words that declare the value of all people have grown in significance in the years since they were penned. Rubenstein noted that one third of the members of the Continental Congress were slave owners, including declaration author Thomas Jefferson. Rubenstein called slavery “one of the obvious inconsistencies” with the declaration’s ideal of equality. It was not until Abraham Lincoln invoked the phrase “all men are created equal” in his 1863 Gettysburg Address that the notion was truly implemented, Rubenstein said.
Rubenstein outlined the historic context of the Declaration of Independence, from British rule to the First and Second Continental Congresses. He also discussed the at-times strained relationship between founding fathers Jefferson and John Adams, including a dispute over whether July 2 or July 4 should be celebrated as America’s true Independence Day.
Herbst asked Rubenstein about the value of artifacts in the digital age, when many resources are available at one’s fingertips online.
“When you see a historic document … it has an opportunity to make you think,” said Rubenstein. “The importance [of historic documents] is to educate people — get them to be inspired to learn more — under the theory that if you learn more, you read more, you’ll be better citizens. And with better citizens, we’ll have a better democracy and better government.”
Before the program, Rubenstein toured the new exhibit, “1776 — Breaking News: Independence,” which brings the story of independence to life through graphic-novel style illustrations and interactive kiosks that allow visitors to explore the artifact in greater detail. Rubenstein was presented with a book about the exhibit after the program.
Rubenstein’s edition of the July 6, 1776, edition of The Pennsylvania Evening Post will be on display in the Pulliam Family History of Liberty Gallery through 2017.
“1776 — Breaking News: Independence” was made possible with generous support from David M. Rubenstein.