Saturday, July 3

The Printed Declaration

With July 4 just a day away, I thought I’d also present some Independence Day musings. While the fourth has long been about gathering friends and family for barbecues and festive parades, as you know the holiday commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Visually speaking, I think most folks are familiar with the original, hand-penned version of the document, as represented in the engraved facsimile in the lowest layer of the image above.

A wonderful read is available from the National Archives website, entitled “The Declaration of Independence: A History.”

Through this essay I was intrigued to learn that the document’s successful dissemination was not only due to its revolutionary ideas, but thanks to the craft of two American printers whose efforts assured its propagation.

The first of these printers was John Dunlap of Philadelphia. From the National Archives essay:

“Although Congress had adopted the Declaration submitted by the Committee of Five, the committee's task was not yet completed. Congress had also directed that the committee supervise the printing of the adopted document. The first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were turned out from the shop of John Dunlap, official printer to the Congress. After the Declaration had been adopted, the committee took to Dunlap the manuscript document, possibly Jefferson's 'fair copy' of his rough draft. On the morning of July 5, copies were dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops. Also on July 5, a copy of the printed version of the approved Declaration was inserted into the 'rough journal' of the Continental Congress for July 4. The text was followed by the words 'Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest. Charles Thomson, Secretary.' It is not known how many copies John Dunlap printed on his busy night of July 4. There are 26 copies known to exist of what is commonly referred to as "the Dunlap broadside.”

The second printer of the Declaration was Mary Katherine Goddard from Baltimore. Again, from the National Archives Essay:

“On January 18, 1777, while the Declaration was still in Baltimore, Congress, bolstered by military successes at Trenton and Princeton, ordered the second official printing of the document. The July 4 printing had included only the names of John Hancock and Charles Thomson, and even though the first printing had been promptly circulated to the states, the names of subsequent signers were kept secret for a time because of fear of British reprisals. By its order of January 18, however, Congress required that 'an authentic copy of the Declaration of Independency, with the names of the members of Congress subscribing to the same, be sent to each of the United States, and that they be desired to have the same put upon record.' The "authentic copy" was duly printed, complete with signers' names, by Mary Katherine Goddard in Baltimore.”

I highly recommend you take a look at the various versions of the Declaration, both for their historical value, but also for their value as urgently produced typographic artifacts; they each have their own aesthetic character.

Image of the original copy of the Declaration sourced from:
The Charters of Freedom (digital exhibit) at the National Archives

The Dunlap Image sourced from:
The Digital collection of the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library:

Goddard Broadside image from:
Wikimedia Commons

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