The Declaration of Independence: A History
The Committee of Five
Jefferson's account reflects three stages in the life of the Declaration: the document originally written by Jefferson; the changes to that document made by Franklin and Adams, resulting in the version that was submitted by the Committee of Five to the Congress; and the version that was eventually adopted.
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," 21 owned by American institutions, 2 by British institutions, and 3 by private owners.
The Engrossed Declaration
On July 9 the action of Congress was officially approved by the New York Convention. All 13 colonies had now signified their approval. On July 19, therefore, Congress was able to order that the Declaration be "fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile [sic] of 'The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America,' and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress."
Engrossing is the process of preparing an official document in a large, clear hand. Timothy Matlack was probably the engrosser of the Declaration. He was a Pennsylvanian who had assisted the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson, in his duties for over a year and who had written out George Washington's commission as commanding general of the ContinentalArmy. Matlack set to work with pen, ink, parchment, and practiced hand, and finally, on August 2, the journal of the Continental Congress records that "The declaration of independence being engrossed and compared at the table was signed." One of the most widely held misconceptions about the Declaration is that it was signed on July 4, 1776, by all the delegates in attendance.
John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the first to sign the sheet of parchment measuring 24¼ by 29¾ inches. He used a bold signature centered below the text. In accordance with prevailing custom, the other delegates began to sign at the right below the text, their signatures arranged according to the geographic location of the states they represented.
Parchment and Ink
Over the next 200 years, the nation whose birth was announced with a Declaration "fairly engrossed on parchment" was to show immense growth in area, population, economic power, and social complexity and a lasting commitment to a testing and strengthening of its democracy. But what of the parchment itself? How was it to fare over the course of two centuries?
The Declaration of Independence has been stored in many places over the years.
• Philadelphia: August-December 1776
• Baltimore: December 1776-March 1777
• Philadelphia: March-September 1777
• Lancaster, PA: September 27, 1777
• York, PA: September 30, 1777-June 1778
• Philadelphia: July 1778-June 1783
• Princeton, NJ: June-November 1783
• Annapolis, MD: November 1783-October 1784
• Trenton, NJ: November-December 1784
• New York: 1785-1790
• Philadelphia: 1790-1800
• Washington, DC (three locations): 1800-1814
• Leesburg, VA: August-September 1814
• Washington, DC (three locations): 1814-1841
• Washington, DC (Patent Office Building): 1841-1876
• Philadelphia: May-November 1876
• Washington, DC (State, War, and Navy Building): 1877-1921
• Washington, DC (Library of Congress): 1921-1941
• Fort Knox*: 1941-1944
• Washington, DC (Library of Congress): 1944-1952
• Washington, DC (National Archives): 1952-present
[Edited at 2014-07-06 02:38 GMT]