Man Discovers Civil War Secret Sitting in Box of Stuff in Mom's House


A rare copy of the Declaration of Independence has resurfaced after it was purchased by billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein.

The copy was made in the 1820s for James Madison and is one of 51 copies known to be in existence, according to The Washington Post.

According to scholars, it was made from the original handwritten calfskin document that was made in Philadelphia in 1776.

“This is the closest … to the original declaration, the way it looked when it was signed in August of 1776,” a rare-document appraiser, Seth Kaller, told The Post. “Without these … copies you wouldn’t even know what the original looked liked.”

The James Madison copy of the declaration was hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War to keep Union soldiers from finding it. Later it was kept in a broken frame inside a cardboard box in Kentucky, according to The Post.

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It was passed down through the family of Michael O’Mara.

“When I was 11 years old, I found it rolled up in my parent’s bedroom,” he told The Western Journal. “I kind of shamed them into having it framed and put over our mantel.”

DOI image 1 (002)
Image provided by Mike O’Mara

Later, the framed declaration fell off the wall and the glass cracked all the way down the middle.

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“Rather than taking it back out and having it reframed, we put it in a box and wrapped it up tight. And it sat there for 35 years,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara’s mother, Helen, was the great-granddaughter of Col. Robert Lewis Madison Jr., a Civil War doctor who served in the Confederate army and treated Robert E. Lee.

Research shows that Helen’s great-grandfather probably received the document from his father, Robert Lewis Madison Sr., who was reportedly James Madison’s favorite nephew.

When O’Mara moved his mother to be closer to him in Texas, he kept the document in his office before deciding that other people might benefit from it.

“I really needed to see if this document can go someplace where people can see it,” he said.

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O’Mara did some research in 2016 and found Rubenstein who had purchased other historical documents.

“I agreed to buy it,” Rubenstein told The Post in a phone interview, saying that he paid “seven figures for it.”

O’Mara added, “We’ve always known what we had, but what was surprising to us was the historical significance (of the document).”

Since this document was Madison’s copy Rosenstein said, “when you look at it you can conjure up images of James Madison looking at it.”

Rubenstein now owns five copies of the Declaration of Independence, The Post reported, and this one will join the others by being lent out for display.

“Ultimately, they’ll always be on display,” he said, adding that his newest copy will go first to the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of American History.

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith