When we think of the Declaration of Independence, the image that often comes to mind is the parchment with signatures at the National Archives. But did you know there were many different versions created in 1776?
I didn’t realize just how many there were until I visited the first printed version of it at Liberty Hall in Pennsylvania.
The Original Drafts
Thomas Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration of Independence in June 1776. Several rough drafts exist in Jefferson’s own handwriting, showing cross outs and revisions.
These are incredible artifacts that provide insight into Jefferson’s thought process as he drafted one of history’s most influential texts.
Clean copies were made to share with Continental Congress delegates. These drafts are located at the Library of Congress, American Philosophical Society, and other institutions.
The Dunlap Broadside
Late on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the final text of the Declaration. That night, printer John Dunlap was tasked with printing the first official broadside.
About 200 were made and distributed throughout the colonies the next day. 26 copies of this iconic printing are known to exist today at institutions like the Liberty Hall, Library of Congress, National Archives, and Yale University.
No version was sent to King George III.
Early Newspaper Printings
On July 6, 1776, the Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper to print the Declaration. Other papers like the Massachusetts Spy (July 17) and Pennsylvania Journal (July 10) soon followed. These versions spread the text far and wide in the days after July 4.
The Signed Parchment
The official Declaration was carefully engrossed on parchment in early August 1776 and signed by 56 delegates over the next months.
There are actually slight differences between the handwritten and printed versions.
This iconic document travelled with the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. Today it is displayed at the National Archives.
Other broadsides and engravings were created in later years. Mary Katherine Goddard printed an important broadside with the list of signers in January 1777.
In 1820s, William J. Stone created the engraving that became the basis for most modern reproductions.
What is the original Deceleration of Independence?
The first printed version is the Dunlap Broadside. Singed by John Handcock and his secretary. It’s unclear what handwritten version the printers used. The signing didn’t come until after the printed version. Was it the one sent to the printers, or another copy? That bit may have been lost in history.
Either way, I encourage you to see both if you can. It’s amazing to stand in front of.