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- 1 Why Was The Declaration Of Independence Made
- 1.1 Texas Declaration Of Independence, 1836
- 1.2 Why Was The Declaration Of Independence Written?
- 1.3 Virginia Declaration Of Rights
- 1.4 Interesting Facts About The Declaration Of Independence
Why Was The Declaration Of Independence Made
The classic image of the Declaration of Independence is a handwritten document made of calfskin. But printing presses existed in 1776 – Benjamin Franklin was even a printer in Philadelphia. So why was the declaration so behind its time?
Early Printing Of The Declaration Of Independence On Silk, 1820
The true physical nature of the document speaks volumes for its significance, both in the 18th century and today.
The first Declaration of Independence was breaking news – and for that reason most Americans saw a typesetting version.
The “press release” for the revolution appeared in “Dunlap broadsides”—printed versions of the document made on July 4, 1776. Broadsides were the same format often used for posters or advertisements. “They are the first text of the declaration to be released,” said Karie Diethorn, chief curator at Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park museum.
The broadsides, named after the printer who made them, don’t have any of the familiar signatures at the bottom, but they were quick to create and distribute.
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If people didn’t happen to see them, they probably saw the newspaper text, like this, the first newspaper print of the Declaration of Independence, from July 6, 1776:
The first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence as it appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post. Andrew Burton/Getty Images
The document used to be a string of text, not an immutable piece of vellum, enclosed behind museum glass. But there was a special reason why the revolutionaries also made a fancy handwritten copy.
The declaration was signed almost a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776 (of course, this date is subject to controversy). After that, it was not widely circulated until nearly a year later. At the time, the American rebellion was old news. So why this signed version?
The Declaration Of Independence: Rough Draft
“It’s the ultimate manifesto of Enlightenment philosophy,” says Diethorn. “It’s a statement of principle.” In modern terms, it was a lot like a mission statement.
That task deserved a more sacred document than a writing sheet – a handwritten one, written by a scribe. Equally important, it called for accountability on the part of the men who supported it. Diethorn says the Declaration of Independence served as a roll call for the men who supported the revolution and, as a result, treason against Great Britain. Including all these signatures on one handwritten page was appropriate for the significance of the dangerous commitment they had made to the revolution.
“It’s a testament to their collective commitment,” says Diethorn. “The reason for the formality is to say: ‘We are dead serious’.”
This is also why it was put on vellum, material made from calfskin. The Continental Congress carried, rolled and folded this copy to take it to many different places during the Revolutionary War to preserve it and keep it safe from the British.
Texas Declaration Of Independence, 1836
Although most early Americans saw a very different physical version of the document, this was considered the truly enduring version of the Declaration of Independence. And for early Americans, it was one of many ways to imagine independence.
The most famous painting of the signing, completed by John Trumbull, is a work of fiction. As seen above, it incorporates a lot of creative license – it changes the room itself (Diethorn says the real room doesn’t look like it) and includes members who weren’t present for the signing. But in a way it is an apt representation of a document that has been rethought over the centuries.
Even what we imagine when we hear the “Declaration of Independence” is probably not the original handwritten version, which has faded dramatically over time. The Stone copies, named after their creator William Stone, were made in the 1820s and are the legible versions most of us are familiar with.
“The general opinion,” says Diethorn, “is that he took some kind of transfer [which a copy lifted from the original] and used it to make an engraving plate.” These very accurate replicas look great, but they are not the original that Congress carried around from one safe hiding place to another.
Why Was The Declaration Of Independence Written?
In the 1800s, it even took a while for the stone facsimile to become the most recognizable copy, although it was far more accurate than ornate ones like this one from 1819:
These many different versions show that the Declaration of Independence has changed significantly in the popular imagination, from a set document to a fanciful copy to the facsimile most of us imagine. The intended meaning is easier to pin down than the appearance.
“It says this is where the modern world began,” says Diethorn. And ironically, we like to show the beginnings of modernity through deliberately antiquated handwriting on a piece of parchment made by a baby cow.
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Virginia Declaration Of Rights
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That is why we are also turning to you, our readers, to help us take time off. If you also believe that everyone deserves access to reliable, high-quality information, would you like to make a gift today? Today we print the Declaration of Independence so that its text and ideas can be interrogated by a new generation.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political ties which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth that separate and equal position to which nature and the laws of nature God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they declare the reasons which drive them to the separation.
Interesting Facts About The Declaration Of Independence
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. – That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and that institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such a form as seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transitory reasons; and accordingly all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evil is tolerable, than to correct themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long series of encroachments and usurpations, invariably pursuing the same object, show a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a government, and to provide for new guards for their future safety. — Such has been the patient suffering of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which compels them to change their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is one of repeated injuries and usurpations, all directly intended to establish an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let the facts be laid before an honest world.
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and urgent importance, unless they are suspended in their operation until his consent is obtained; and when he is suspended he has entirely neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of the people, unless those people would renounce the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them, and formidable only to tyrants.
He has convened legislative bodies in places unusual, inconvenient, and remote from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of tiring them into compliance with his measures.
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He has repeatedly dissolved the House of Representatives because he opposed with manly firmness his invasions of the rights of the people.
He has long refused, after such dissolutions, to let others be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of extinction, have reverted to the people at large for their exercise; the state meanwhile remains exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without and convulsions within.
He has endeavored
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