Declaration Of Independence History

Declaration of Independence Information

The Continental Congress charged five men with the responsibility to commit to paper the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence from Britain: Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), John Adams (1735-1826), Robert Livingston (1746-1813), and Roger Sherman (1721-93). Most scholars today now view the authorship of this document to be highly collaborative both among these five individuals (who made forty-seven alterations to Jefferson’s original draft) and among the members of Congress, who made another thirty-nine alterations after voting for independence on July 2, 1776.

After the Declaration was approved on July 4, it was immediately set in type as a broadside and printed overnight by John Dunlap, the official printer to Congress. Copies of the printed version were immediately distributed to all of the colonies, where in some instances they were reprinted by local printers so that by July 18, twenty-four newspapers had republished the text of the Declaration. The Pennsylvania Evening Post, printed by Benjamin Towne (d. 1793), was the first newspaper to include the text in its pages. 

A close up of text on a white background

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There is only one copy of the engrossed and signed Declaration of Independence, in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. This copy was produced and signed several weeks after the Declaration of Independence was first published. 

It is estimated that John Dunlap produced 200 copies of his broadside of the Declaration of Independence, the first printing of the text. Of that original number, there are 26 known copies of the Dunlap broadside in the world today. The Dunlap broadside did not include any names besides John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson. The first broadside to include the names of the signatories was the Goddard broadside, printed in January 1777. 

Dunlap Broadside

After Dunlap, a number of printers created their own broadsides of the Declaration of Independence, sometimes for their own purposes and sometimes as an “official” state version. Broadsides are distinguishable from newspapers because they are one sheet, similar to a poster, and the printer would often include their name and the location of their print shop at the bottom of the sheet. In New York, John Holt printed a broadside that included New York’s resolution in favor of independence, which made the Declaration unanimous. In Massachusetts, Ezekiel Russell printed a broadside that included the order for a copy to be sent to all the parishes in Massachusetts. These broadsides created by the printers listed below are typically even more rare than the Dunlap broadside, and some local institutions may display them from time to time. 

Thomas and Samuel Green (New Haven, CT)
John Gill, and Powars and Willis (Boston, MA)
Ezekiel Russell (Boston, MA)
Hugh Gaine (New York, NY)
John Holt (New York, NY)
Steiner & Cist (German printing; Philadelphia, PA)
Solomon Southwick (Newport, RI)
Peter Timothy (Charleston, SC)

There are a handful of other broadsides printed in July or August 1776 without a printer’s name. One has been attributed to Samuel Loudon in New York, another to either Ezekiel Russell or John Rogers working out of Russell’s shop, and another to Robert Luist Fowle in Exeter, N.H.

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After the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress, it was ordered to be engrossed on parchment and signed by the delegates. The engrosser was most likely Timothy Matlack, one of Secretary Charles Thomson’s assistants. Matlack completed the parchment by August 2nd (with only two corrected errors), and the delegates commenced with signing. Many signatures were added on August 2nd, and the rest were added in the coming months as delegates returned to or arrived in Philadelphia (Thomas McKean’s was the last signature added, sometime between 1777 and 1781). The parchment was entrusted to Thomson, was rolled up with other documents, and traveled with the Continental Congress as they moved locations over the course of the Revolutionary War. It was then entrusted to the office of the Secretary of State; the first, ironically, being Thomas Jefferson. In the 20th century, custody transferred to the Library of Congress, and then to the National Archives. Today, you can see the now-faded parchment at the National Archives, along with the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Engrossed and Signed Declaration of Independence

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Manuscript copies of the Declaration of Independence (distinct from the rough drafts and clean copies) are simply handwritten copies of the final, approved text. The most authoritative manuscript copy is in the original Journals of the Continental Congress, in Charles Thomson’s hand. The exact provenance for most other manuscript copies is unknown, and speculation over the handwriting and timing of these documents is typically their most intriguing feature. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK has a manuscript copy signed by Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane. The Clements Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI has two manuscript copies in the papers of George Sackville Germain, who was the British Secretary of State for the American Colonies during the Revolutionary War. The Parliamentary Archives also have a manuscript copy of the Declaration, dated January 20, 1778, which was laid before the House of Lords as part of a peace enquiry which was defeated on February 2nd.

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The Goddard Broadside


Another “official” broadside was created six months after Dunlap’s first broadside, while the Continental Congress was meeting in Baltimore. The Goddard Broadside, printed by female printer and postmaster Mary Katherine Goddard, was the first to include the names of the signers (minus McKean). This was a more limited print run than Dunlap’s, and broadsides were sent to each of the states for their official archives. In 1949, nine copies of the Goddard broadside were known (there may be more in existence), and were located at the following institutions.

Connecticut State Library (Hartford, CT)
Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.)
Massachusetts Archives (Dorchester, MA)
Maryland Hall of Records (Annapolis, MD)
Evergreen Library, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
New York Public Library (New York, NY)
Library Company of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA)
Rhode Island State Archives (Providence, RI)

Mary Katherine Goddard, Broadside, January 1777 (Public Domain)

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In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned William J. Stone to create an engraving of the engrossed and signed parchment, which was already fading. Stone completed his engraving by 1823, and 200 copies of the Stone engraving were printed. Stone’s engraving is the basis for most reproductions of the Declaration of Independence today. His engraving was also used by Peter Force to create another set of printings in connection with Force’s American Archives series.

Other engravers approximated the engrossed and signed parchment in the early 19th century, including Benjamin Owen Tyler, John Binns (pictured), and Eleazer Huntington. After Stone’s printing became the relied upon “exact facsimile”, printers seemed to take the opportunity to create more decorative printings (more in the style of Binns’ engraving), often including portraits of the signers, symbols for the thirteen states, and patriotic icons such as the Liberty Bell, bald eagle, or George Washington.

If you see a Stone engraving (or find one in your attic or the back of a picture frame…) and wonder if it is authentic, follow these guidelines or consult with an appraiser or historian. 

These later engravings are good resources for the text of the Declaration of Independence, but they are very rarely exact facsimiles of the engrossed and signed parchment.

Binns, Declaration of Independence

CONTACT

The Declaration Resources Project is part of the Democratic Knowledge Project

Email: [email protected]

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Eleazar Huntington Facsimile circa 1820-1824

Eleazer Huntington. Believed to have been printed in Hartford, Conn., circa 1820-1824. 25 x 211⁄2 inches. This imitates but reduces in size Tyler’s de- sign, and it skimps on some of Tyler’s details, but is still an excellent early en- graving of the Declaration. 

The Huntington example illustrat- edhereisafinecopyIsoldin2007for $22,000. Others have sold for more, but copies with flaws can go for much less. I have one such example now at $6,000. These were originally hung on wooden rollers, often in schoolhouses, so significant condition flaws are com- mon. 

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Benjamin Owen Tyler Facsimile, 1819

“Tyler…retained every stroke and every nuance of his mod- els, preserving their proportions, stress, and weight far more faithfully than his competitor.” (John Bidwell, American History in Image and Text in Proceedings of
the American Antiquarian Society,
1988, Vol. 98, pp. 256). 

Tyler printings range from about $25,000 for paper copies in nice condition, to a multiple of that for vellum and silk printings. 

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John Binns facsimile 1819

John Binns. Philadelphia, October or November 1819. 36 x 261⁄4 inches. The text was engraved by C. H. Parker, the signatures by
Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co. The title and text are in ornamental script with the signatures in facsimile, within an ornamental border bearing state seals in medallions and portraits of Washing-ton, Jefferson, and Hancock.
There is an engraved attestation to its accuracy by John Quincy Adams, Sec. of State. Binns intended to have the first facsimile of the Declaration, but his great attention to quality, and the time he needed to refine his superb me-
dallion illustrations, slowed him down. Thus, Tyler beat him to it. 

We sold a Binns for $9,500 only a few years ago, but prices for all the important Declaration prints have escalated significantly. 

I bid too timidly when the copy illustrated here came up at auction at Freeman’s in 2007, selling for $14,340. This and another copy have since sold privately in the $30,000 range. 

William Woodruff. Philadelphia 1819.  His copy was pirated from Binns, but was on the market first. Printed by C.P. Harrison. 26 ¼” x 18 ¼”. By giving less attention to engraving quality, Woodruff was able to sell his knock-off first, offering it with a separately published facsimile of just the signatures, again copying Binns design. 

A Few Fun Declaration Facts 

How fast did word spread? 

Forget e-mail. It took more than a month for the Declaration to get around to all of the Colonies. In Philadelphia, where it was written, it was publicly read on July 8. It took until July 26 for the complete text to be published in Virginia, and even later in Charleston, S.C. 

Of the 56 signers, how many voted for independence?
39. Eight of the 56 signers were newly elected members who joined Congress after July 4. And 

some who voted for it never had an opportunity to sign it. Henry Wisner, for one, returned instead to New York’s congress, and Robert R. Livings- ton, a member of the committee appointed to draft the document. 

Who voted against independence, but signed the Declaration anyway?
George Read of Delaware.
Why didn’t our most famous founding father sign the Declaration? 

George Washington resigned from Congress in June, 1775 when he was appointed to lead the army. In July, 1776, the war moved from Boston 

to New York. 

Who is the most valuable signer? Button Gwinnett of Georgia, who was killed in a duel by General Lachlan McIntosh 

in May 1777. 

Whose vote and signature replaced that of his ailing father? 

Thomas Lynch, Jr. His full signature may be even scarcer than Gwinnett’s.
When were the signers’ names first published?
Not until 1777, when Congress ordered
an official broadside 

published, including their names. Mary Katherine Goddard of Maryland was the 

printer.

Where is the original manuscript? The July 4th manuscript, signed by Hancock and Thomson and 

then rushed to the printer, has not 

been seen since. But the engrossed signed manuscript is on 

view for all to see, at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
Where is the best exhibit of Declaration broadsides and signers letters? 

The Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence Collection can be seen at the University of Virginia Special Collections Library, and in an excellent book published in 2008, Declaring Independence: The Origin and Influence of America’s Founding Document, edited by Christian Y. Dupont and Peter S. Onuf. 

Compiled from many on line sources.

Compliments of Steve Winters / Historical Americana.com