By Betsy Thorpe
In 2000,Television producer Norman Lear purchased a copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed on July 4, 1776. It is one of twenty four Dunlap broadside copies known to exist. Following the purchase of the document, Mr. Lear realized he was in possession of ” our nations birth certificate and that it should visit Americans as a reminder of the rights we all cherish”.
On July 4, 2001 this historic document began its journey across America, part of the multi-media traveling exhibit “The Declaration of Independence Road Trip”. The exhibit designed to promote civic activism and to encourage Americans to exercise their right to vote includes a ten minute video narrated by native Nashvillian, Reese Witherspoon, who is a descendant of Declaration signer, John Witherspoon.
Since 2001 the DOI Road Trip has stopped at fifty one cities and towns in thirty one states , at the museum at Mt. Rushmore, six presidential libraries and at the Oklahoma City Memorial. Events at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and at the Super Bowl in New Orleans included presentations of the exhibit.
On October 4, the Declaration of Independence Road trip arrived in Nashville. The exhibit, displayed in the Gallery at the downtown library, drew thousands of visitors. The exhibit, part of the events surrounding the town hall presidential debate between Senators Mc Cain and Obama at Belmont University on October 7th, was sponsored by Declare Yourself a non-profit organization founded in 2003. The group is responsible for registering more than two million first time voters including a record number of high school students.
President Roosevelt once stated that the Declaration of Independence, The United States Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation composed the moral North Star that guides our nation. Shortly before the debate in Nashville, in an interview with Katie Couric, Senator Obama paraphrased President Roosevelt by saying “the ideals promoted in the Declaration of Independence create the North Star that guides our nation through it’s darkest days.”
The interest in this years presidential race was evident on Belmont campus in the hours preceding,during and following the debate, but for many Nashville residents a renewed sense of pride in our nation developed after viewing The Declaration of Independence, one of the most important political documents of all times.