During the spring of 1776, the colonies took important steps toward independence from Great Britain. On 15 May, a resolution was adopted at the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg that instructed the Virginia delegates in Congress to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence on, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies, at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided, that the power of forming government for, and the regulation of the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to the respective Colonial legislatures.
The idea of colonial independence had gained momentum with the circulation of Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense. In Philadelphia, the delegates to the Continental Congress were divided on the issues of independence and the establishment of confederated colonies. On 27 May, Congress received the Virginia resolution and the movement toward independence quickened. On 7 June, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented to Congress a motion,
Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Although the motion was seconded by Massachusetts delegate John Adams, further debate was postponed until the following day. On 8 and 10 June, the moderates expressed their reluctance to declare independence and secured a postponement of Congress for three weeks by a vote of seven to five. It was apparent to the delegates that Lee's resolution would ultimately pass, so Congress appointed a Committee of Five to prepare a declaration. On 11 June, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, were entrusted with this important task.
The members of the Committee of Five chose the young Thomas Jefferson to draft the document. Jefferson, while only thirty-three years old, had a wealth of experience in political service and writing. In 1774, while a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Jefferson wrote a political pamphlet entitled A Summary View of the Rights of British America. In the spring of 1776, Jefferson composed a draft of a proposed constitution for Virginia. On 27 June, while Jefferson was in Philadelphia, a portion of his draft constitution was adopted as the preamble to the Virginia Constitution. Although A Summary View was printed anonymously, the members of the Committee were aware of Jefferson's talent for composition. In preparation for his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson relied heavily on his draft of the proposed constitution for Virginia; George Mason's Declaration of Rights, adopted by Virginia on 12 June 1776, which was printed in draft form in the Pennsylvania Evening Post for 6 June; and Richard Henry Lee's resolution proposed to Congress on 7 June.
There are six extant documents, one incomplete, in Thomas Jefferson's hand that help trace the evolution of the Declaration of Independence. First is the rough draft labeled by Jefferson "original Rough draft," and hereafter referred to as Rough Draft. The Rough Draft is located in the Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Second is the copy given by Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee which is located in the collection of the American Philosophical Society. Third is the copy in the Emmet Collection of the New York Public Library, purported to be the copy that Jefferson sent to George Wythe. Fourth is an incomplete copy in the Washburn Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which Jefferson may have sent to either John Page or Edmund Pendleton. The previous three documents, here called the "second," "third," and "fourth," were executed sometime after the Committee of Five had completed their work and before the Declaration was altered in Congress. The fifth Declaration was the copy made for James Madison in 1783 by Jefferson from his notes of the debates in Congress. Last is the draft in Jefferson's notes from which the Madison copy was taken. Another significant draft of the Declaration, although not in Jefferson's hand, is the fair copy taken by John Adams of Jefferson's draft before it was submitted to Congress and prior to any changes suggested by himself or Franklin, now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Minor changes were proposed by Adams and Franklin while Jefferson was preparing the Declaration of Independence. After Jefferson completed the Rough Draft, it is believed that he prepared a "fair copy" or revised document to be presented to Congress. The Rough Draft contains corrections, additions and deletions, primarily in Jefferson's hand, made by Adams and Franklin, the Committee of Five, and later by Congress. Phrases in brackets indicate parts that were stricken out by Congress.
On Friday, 28 June, the Committee of Five presented to Congress the document entitled "A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States Of America in General Congress assembled." Jefferson's text was presented to the Committee of the Whole for discussion after Lee's resolution was approved by Congress on Monday, 2 July. For three days, Jefferson sat and listened while Congress altered his prepared document. The most significant alteration Congress undertook was the elimination of a paragraph that restricted the slave trade and statements denouncing the people of England for their participation in a war against the colonies. Since the colonists were primarily dissatisfied with the King and his government, the members of Congress chose to eliminate the passage that included the indictment of their British brethren.
On 4 July, the Congress approved the Declaration and it was formally adopted by unanimous vote of all the colonies represented. The Congress voted immediately to authenticate and print the document. The president of Congress, John Hancock, signed the document, thereby authenticating it. Secretary Charles Thomson attested to it with his signature and the Congress further ordered:
That the committee appointed to prepare the declaration superintend and correct the press. That copies of the declaration be sent to the several assemblies, conventions and committees or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops; that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the Army.
There is no record of exactly how the Committee of Five carried out their orders. It is likely that Thomas Jefferson and one, or more, of the committee members took the authenticated copy signed by John Hancock to the print shop of John Dunlap. Boyd argues that the document brought to Dunlap's shop would probably not have born the signatures of John Hancock and Charles Thomson. Boyd contends the document would not have had enough space for official signatures after it was altered by Congress. A separate piece of paper containing the signatures of Hancock and Thomson would have been affixed to the Declaration.
The exact number of broadsides printed at John Dunlap's shop on the evening of 4 July and the morning of 5 July is undetermined but estimated to be between one and two hundred copies. Currently, there are twenty-five known Dunlap broadsides. One copy of the broadside was delivered to Charles Thomson, who folded it and placed it in the manuscript "Journal of the Continental Congress." John Hancock received numerous copies to dispatch throughout the colonies, a number of which were sent with cover letters in his hand. On 8 July 1776, Colonel John Nixon read the Declaration of Independence in the State House yard. The Dunlap broadside used by Nixon on 8 July is located in the Independence National Historical Park collection. Of the twenty-five extant Dunlap broadsides, two are located in British repositories. Both copies were transmitted to England with correspondence from Vice Admiral Lord Richard Howe dated 28 July and 11 August 1776 from his post aboard the flagship Eagle, off Staten Island. One of the letters to accompany the Dunlap broadsides was addressed to Lord George Germain.
On 5 July, copies of the Dunlap broadside were sent to the various state assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety and to the commanding officers of the continental troops. The distribution of the Dunlap broadside prompted additional printing of the Declaration of Independence from New Hampshire to Virginia. Of the nineteen various editions of broadsides only eighteen have surviving copies. These broadsides of the Declaration, derived from the Dunlap broadside, were printed and distributed throughout the colonies. The Declaration of Independence's first appearance in a newspaper was on 6 July in The Pennsylvania Evening Post. Twenty-three other newspapers published the Declaration throughout the colonies before it was ordered to be engrossed on 19 July. The first appearance of the Declaration in a book was The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution, Carefully Collected from the Best Authorities; with Some Observations, on Their Peculiar Fitness for the United Colonies in General, and Pennsylvania in Particular, By Demophilus, published in 1776 by Robert Bell of Philadelphia.
Sometime between 4 July and 19 July, John Dunlap reset the type in his shop and created a unique broadside printing of the Declaration on parchment. On July 19, the Declaration of Independence was ordered to be fairly engrossed on parchment and the title changed from A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled to The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America. The engrossed copy of the Declaration was to be signed by every member of Congress. The document was probably engrossed by Timothy Matlack, a Pennsylvanian who had been an assistant to Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress.
On 2 August 1776, the members of the Continental Congress assembled and it was recorded in the Journal that "the declaration of independence being engrossed and compared at the table was signed." The general public did not know the names of those individuals who signed the Declaration until some months later.
Congress was in session in Baltimore, Maryland from 20 December 1776 to 4 March 1777. On 18 January, after victories at Trenton and Princeton, Congress ordered an authenticated copy of the Declaration of Independence printed complete with the names of the signers. Mary Katharine Goddard employed the original engrossed copy of the Declaration to set the type in her shop. A copy of the Goddard printing was ordered to be sent to each state. Currently, there are nine known Goddard broadsides. The printing of the Goddard broadside is significant: the names of those who signed the Declaration were recorded and thus made publicly known for the first time.
During the late-eighteenth century and early-nineteenth century, individual perception of the Declaration of Independence evolved from a view of the document as an instrument for colonial independence to a symbol of American nationalism. Many Americans of the early-nineteenth century had never seen the text of the Declaration of Independence until 1818 when Benjamin Owen Tyler published the first engraving of the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, Tyler's engraving and others that soon followed provided a powerful image for most Americans. In order to showcase his skill as a writing master, Tyler published political and patriotic prints and facsimile letters copied from the hand of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. During the second decade of the nineteenth century, Tyler's business centered in Washington.
Tyler's engraving of the Declaration employed ornamental script supplemented with facsimile signatures copied from the original engrossed copy of the Declaration. Tyler maintained every nuance of the original signatures, preserving the proportions, stress, and weight as made by the original signers. Tyler's facsimile signatures were so exact that they were often mistaken for the originals.
Tyler's engraving of the Declaration was published just prior to an engraving designed by John Binns. In Philadelphia, Binns was the founder of The Democratic Press, a Republican newspaper. In June 1816, Binns began a list of subscriptions for his publication of "a splendid and correct copy of the Declaration of Independence, with fac-similes of all the signatures, the whole to be encircled with the arms of the thirteen States and of the United States."
Although Binns promised his copy of the Declaration in one year, the enormous scale of its design delayed publication until 1819. Binns employed as many as five artists at one time to assist him with the design. Time was taken to borrow portraits, obtain models for the state seals, and paint the American eagle from life. The finished document was a collaborative effort among designer, artist, engraver, and printer. The overall design was assembled by John Binns. In response to Tyler's dedication to Thomas Jefferson, Binns dedicated his print to the people of the United States. In 1819, Binns' Declaration was printed in Philadelphia by James Porter.
In the Binns' engraving, the state seals form an oval surrounding the text of the Declaration in a symbolic representation of national unity. Binns and other artists filled their engravings with images, designs, and portraits not only to appear aesthetically pleasing but to appeal to American patriotic and political sentiments. In 1819, with the spirit of nationalism rising, Americans began to focus on the ideas espoused in the Declaration rather than simply viewing the document as an act proclaiming separation from Great Britain.
A few months prior to Binns' publication, William Woodruff, a journeyman engraver, published an engraving of the Declaration almost identical to Binns' work. According to Binns in an unsuccessful lawsuit against his competitor, Woodruff stole his design while working as a journeyman in the shop of George Murray, an employee of Binns'. Woodruff's engraving of the Declaration contained signatures in a uniform round hand, not facsimiles, and replaced the portrait of John Hancock with one of John Adams. Later, Woodruff issued a separate published document with facsimile signatures. Why Woodruff originally issued the engraving without facsimile signatures is unclear. It is possible that the signatures on the Binns' engraving had not been completed or that Woodruff was apprehensive about copying Binns' facsimile signatures, an act that would have made his document identical to Binns' engraving. Following John Binns' announcement of his intent to publish the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Owen Tyler reprinted his own Declaration at a lower price. Tyler's engraving cost five dollars on paper and seven on parchment, while Binns charged ten dollars plain and thirteen if colored. The battle between the two men was waged in the newspapers and in the marketplace. The controversy provided both advertising for their engravings and spurred interest in the Declaration as a important document.
In response to Tyler's jump on the market, Binns sought recognition from the government. Binns wanted his Declaration displayed in both houses of Congress. In 1820, Binns' plan for government sponsorship was thwarted when Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned William J. Stone, a political friend, to create an official facsimile of the engrossed version of the Declaration, with signatures as well as text. The engrossed copy of the Declaration had been rolled and unrolled numerous times to be examined by printers and engravers and to exhibit for dignitaries. As a result, it was becoming fragile and a replacement was needed. Thus, the Stone facsimile would serve as the official document for the United States government.
Stone's facsimile of the Declaration was engraved on copperplate and printed on parchment. On 26 May 1824, Congress ordered two hundred copies of the Stone facsimile distributed. The surviving three signers of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, each received two copies. Two copies each were also sent to President James Monroe, Vice-President Daniel D. Thompkins, former President James Madison, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate received twenty copies of the Stone facsimile. The various departments of Government received twelve copies apiece. Two copies were sent to the President's house and to the Supreme Court chamber. The remaining copies were sent to the governors and legislatures of the states and territories, and various universities and colleges in the United States.
There is considerable debate over the process Stone used to replicate the engrossed copy of the Declaration. Did Stone employ a wet-press process that involved the actual engrossed copy of the Declaration or did he painstakingly trace the original during the three years it was in his shop. The Stone facsimile is distinguished by the legend in the upper left corner, "ENGRAVED BY W.I. STONE for the Dept. of State by order," and the upper right corner, "Of J.Q. Adams, Sec. of State July 4, 1823." Later editions of the Stone facsimile were struck from the plate after the official two hundred were struck but do not include the legend in the top left and right portion of the document. Rather, these later copies bear the legend "W.J. Stone SC. Washn." in the bottom left corner.
As the nineteenth century progressed, artists created editions of the Declaration of Independence ornamented with portraits, monuments, emblems, scenes of historic sites, and allegorical figures. Although it is difficult to determine cause and effect, it is likely that printers, engravers, and artists decorated the Declaration with these images in an effort to sell their products. Financial rewards, not a spirit of nationalism, patriotism and liberty, probably motivated most of those who published nineteenth-century facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence.