The Dunlap Broadside

After Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, delegates ordered it printed that night. At this point, no one had signed the document — the only names that appear on it in print form are John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, and Charles Thomson, secretary. A number of copies are printed that night — no one knows exactly how many — at John Dunlap’s print shop in Philadelphia. This would be the first printing of the Declaration and would become known as the Dunlap Broadside — today there are 21 in existence. Congress ordered these copies to be dispatched to the colonies and the Continental Army, through General George Washington. On July 9, New York delegates voted in favor of independence, making the vote unanimous. On July 19, the Congress ordered that the Declaration be “engrossed” — that is, copied with a fine hand in pen and ink — and then signed by the delegates. On August 2, 1776, the finished, engrossed Declaration was signed by the delegates, and the word “Unanimous” was added to the header (to account for New York’s vote). It’s this version — engrossed and signed — that appears under protective glass in the National Archives rotunda. Finally, because things were going badly for the Continental Army in the summer of 1776, the signed, engrossed copy was not distributed, nor were the signatories’ names made public, until January 1777 — after Washington won battles at Princeton and Trenton. Keep in mind that any delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence would have been tried for treason and hanged had the British army prevailed in the Revolutionary War. It is, indeed, a fallacy that the Declaration was signed on July 4. No matter — enjoy the Fourth of July and remember what a monumental cause we are celebrating!