July 4th, is traditionally the day on which those of us in the U.S. celebrate our official Declaration of Independence from Britain – and the birth of this great nation. It is on this day that the original 13 colonies finally came to an agreement to break from Britain – and that the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
It seems that even back in the 1700′s, politicians loathed to do much of anything – so the politicians appointed an committee of five statesmen to draft a statement presenting the case for independence of the colonies to the world. The five: John Adams of Massachusetts; Roger Sherman of Connecticut; Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania; Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia accepted the task and began it’s development.
On July 1st, 1776 Congress began the most historic session in what was soon to become the United States of America – and July 2nd, the 13 colonies voted to declare their independence from Britain by a vote of 12-1 – actually New York Didn’t vote – so it was for all practical purposes unanimous. On July 3rd, the began deliberation on the documents prepared by the Committee of Five – and on the morning of July 4th, it is said that all the church bells rang across the city of Philadelphia announcing that the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted.
It may have been official adopted – but it wasn’t until July 9th, that the New York Convention finally approved the action of Congress and only then could the Declaration be – “fairly engrossed on parchment with title & stile [sic]” and when completed signed by every member of congress.
And not REALLY signed until August 2nd, and even then…
Unlike the legal documents of today, which can printed within seconds of coming to an agreement – back then, one had to hire an “engrosser” – or someone who could pen a calligraphic document – i.e. copied in large, clear script. It is reported that Timothy Matlack, in addition to his duties as a delegate to the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania – was selected to be the Engrosser of the Declaration of Independence. The parchment was completed and presented to the Congress for signing on August 2nd, 1776.
The signing of the engrossed document didn’t go as smoothly as planned, and like today – not every politician did as was so ordered by the president of the congress.
John Hancock – the President of the Congress was first to sign, in that now famous bold signature of is. As was then customary – the rest of the delegates began to sign at the right below the text. Eventually the list that we see today of 56 signatures were accumulated – but not all of them were present on August 2nd. Some of the late signers were: Elbridge Gerry; Oliver Wolcott; Lewis Morris; Thomas McKean and Matthew Thornton.
Strangely enough – even though ordered by Congress that the engrossed document was to be signed by “every member of Congress – there were actually 2 delegates that still refused. One John Dickinson – who thought that the colonies should reconcile with Britain – and Robert R. Linvingston – yes, one of the Committee of Five who thought that it was too soon for the colonies to make the split.
So Independence Day is really August 2nd…kind of…
One can, and there have been quite a few debates on whether or not the adoption of the Declaration of Independence or the signing of the Declaration is Independence Day – and most people still believe that those dates are one in the same. History of course reports differently – but – after over 225 years of celebrating on July 4th – I don’t think the celebration is going to be shifting any time soon. Personally I believe it was enough that it was adopted – and the signing of it – was simply a formality.
A bit of Declaration of Independence Trivia…
The Continent Congress actually endorsed pirates on the high seas! In march of 1776 in response to the British Parliament passing of the “American Prohibitory Act – which made all American ships and the cargoes that they carried property of the Crown – and a new treaty between the King and German states to supply mercenaries to fight in America – the Continental Congress passed the “Privateering Resolution” – allowing ships owned by colonists to be armed and permission given to attack any and all enemies of these “United Colonies.”
If you look carefully at the document – you will notice that it is actually signed not in random order, or alphabetical order – but by order in which they fall geographically. New Hampshire – being the northernmost state signed first – and Georgia, the southernmost, last. John Hancock – as President of the Continent Congress is out of order, but as president – was first to sign, centered below the text – which was customary.
On July 5th, as soon as the Declaration was adopted – and way before it was signed by anyone – Congress ordered the printing of the document. Copies of the document were distributed by the members of congress to the various assemblies, conventions and other colonial committees as well as to the commanders of the Continental troops. It was also inserted into the journal of the Continental Congress for July 4th. This early distribution and filing in the journals is what probably led to the confusion of when the Declaration was signed.
If Congress hadn’t signed the Declaration copies distributed on the 5th – where the copies signed by someone?
NO. There was text however stating “Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest. Charles Thomson, Secretary”
No one knows for sure – but the printer to the Continental Congress, John Dunlap, is said to have been very busy on the night of the fourth. Don’t forget – were not talking Xerox copies here – the type had to be set, the presses set up etc…that said…according to those in the know at the National Archives there are 26 known copies from the batch made up on July 4th. Known as the “Dunlap broadside” – 21 of them are owned by American institutions, 2 by the British, and 3 are in private collections. As a side note – I have heard that almost 200 copies were made – but I haven’t found any proof offered – simply – many I have heard, and it has been reported.
BTW: In addition to being known as the printer to the Continental Congress, and the printer of the Declaration of Independence – John Dunlap was also the publisher of “The Pennsylvania Packet” – a weekly newspaper then in 1784 a daily called “The Daily Advertiser.” Which according to the Library of Congress was the very first daily newspaper in the United States.
BTW2: The Pennsylvania Packet contained articles written by none other than “Philanthropos” the pen name of Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin.
What’s a broadside?
A broadside, or “broadsheet” is a antiquated printing term which is usually defined by a print job on a large sheet of paper printed on only one side. It was typically used as a poster to announce events, government proclamations or other important matters. The size used was adopted by newspapers – for many years, but has since fallen out of fashion.
You said three copies are in private collections – how did it they get there?
Well, I do know the story of one of the copies – and I have seen it reprinted in various encyclopedias etc… so I’m pretty sure that it is true.
The story goes that one day a man shopping at a fea market, came upon a painting that he liked and purchased it for $4.00. After bringing it home, he noticed a small tear in the lining – being curious he picked at it, and found a folded up document stuffed in there. He pulled back the lining, and pulled out the folded paper and it turned out to be a copy of the Declaration of Independence. It looked very old, so he brought to a friend who worked at Sotheby’s auction house. It was authenticated as the 26th known copy of the Dunlap Broadside – and was later purchased at auction by Norma Lear and his partners for a whopping $8.1 million US dollars!
The Declaration of Independence was written on parchment measuring 24 1/2″ x 29 1/4″