Lot 557
  • 557

The Declaration of Independence

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  • ink on paper
In Congress, July 4, 1776. A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the aws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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 to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. ... We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to eah other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest, Charles Thompson [sic], Secretary. [Salem, Massachusetts: printed by John Rogers at the Printing-Office of Ezekiel Russell , 15 or 16 July 1776]

Broadside (17 x 14 1/8 in.; 434 x 360 mm) on an untrimmed sheet of laid paper, unwatermarked, preserving deckle on edges, docketed on the verso by a contemporary hand ("A Declaration of Independence | July 4 1776—"); silked, a little light spotting, creased where formerly folded, with a few resulting pinholes, one slightly larger hole in central top quadrent, paper flaw to lower right corner repaires, in all about seven letters touched by the pinholes; some mounting remnants on verso. 

Catalogue Note

The foundation document of the United States and the most important political charter in world history.

This is one of only six recorded copies of one of the earliest broadside editions of the Declaration of Independence and likely the first to be printed in Massachusetts, the birthplace of the American Revolution.

This is the only contemporary broadside printing of the Declaration set in four columns and one of five editions issued without an imprint identifying its printer and place of publication. This Declaration was evidently produced not by government decree but for public consumption, which has contributed to it being one of the rarest of all 1776 printings. Only five copies beside the present are recorded: one in a private collection and four in institutions (Harvard University; Georgetown University; the Massachusetts Historical Society; and the Peabody Essex Museum.)

The text of the Declaration of Independece—which announced and justified America's resolution of separation from Great Britain—was first printed on the evening of 4 July 1776, by John Dunlap. But when the Continental Congress convened for session in May of that year, the issuance of such a declaration was far from a foregone conclusion. A coalition of delegates from Mid-Atlantic states, led by Pennsylvania's John Dickinson, advocated a cautious approach towards independence and may even have harbored hopes for an equitable reconciliation with Britain.

The first step towards the Declaration was Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee's resolution of 7 June, "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." This provoked sharp debate in the chamber, with South Carolinian Edward Rutledge confiding to John Jay that "The Sensible part of the House opposed the Motion. ... They saw no Wisdom in a Declaration of Independence nor any other Purpose to be answer'd by it, but placing ourselves in the Power of those with whom we mean to treat. ..." But firebrands like John Adams carried the day and on 11 June 1776 the Continental Congress appointed a committee of five members to draft a declaration endorsing Lee's resolution. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston of New York formed the committee.

Jefferson was chosen to write the Declaration, in recognition of his (in John Adams's words) "peculiar felicity of expression." His extensively reworked Rough Draft, as it is commonly known, is preserved in the Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. In addition to Lee's resolution, Jefferson drew heavily on two other fundamental sources for his text: George Mason's bill of rights, adopted by Virginia on 12 June 1776, and his own draft of a proposed constitution for Virginia. Jefferson felt great satisfaction for the rest of his life in having been privileged to serve as chief author of this greatest of American documents. Shortly before his death, Jefferson wrote to Richard Henry Lee, responding to the remarks of John Adams and others that the Declaration only stated what everyone at the time believed. He had been concerned, he wrote, "not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent ... it was intended to be an expression of the American mind."

As is evident from their annotations on the Rough Draft, Adams and Franklin read and commented on Jefferson's version, making relatively small changes. There is no direct evidence of revision from the hands of Sherman and Livingston. A (now-lost) fair copy, incorporating these changes, was submitted to the full body of the Continental Congress, which debated it for three days before approving it on 4 July 1776.

The most substantial modification made in Congressional discussion was that the final point of Jefferson's charge against the British king, that of "violating [the] most sacred rights of life & liberty" by encouraging the slave trade, was struck out. Jefferson's own Notes made at the time of the debates state that this was done "in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it." With that major change, Congress adopted the Declaration and authorized its printing, resolving "That the committee appointed to prepare the declaration superintend & correct the press; That copies of the declaration be sent to the several Assemblies, Conventions & 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 & at the head of the army." In the final sentence of the Declaration, the phrase "with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence" was also added.

That same evening, a manuscript copy of the Declaration, evidently bearing the authorizing signature of John Hancock, president of the Congress, was taken to the shop of John Dunlap, official printer to Congress, who was located within walking distance of the Statehouse at 48 High Street and Market Street.  Dunlap evidently spent the evening of 4 July 1776 setting the Declaration in type. At least one proof was taken, a fragment of which survives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia.  It chiefly varies from the finished copies in putting many phrases within quotation marks which were afterward removed, in some cases leaving unusually large gaps between words.

Finished copies were pulled and delivered to Congress the morning of 5 July, and the process of distribution began that very day.  The number of copies printed is unknown, but it is likely that the Dunlap broadside was printed in substantial numbers, perhaps between 500 and 1,000 copies.

However many copies were printed, the Dunlap Broadside did not entirely fulfill the intense demand of thousands of Americans for copies of the Declaration of Independence. As copies of this first printing were distributed throughout the thirteen colonies, they were used as copy texts for other, local printers, who produced their own broadside editions to fulfill the public hunger for the Declaration. Including the Dunlap printing, thirteen broadside editions of the Declaration of Independence were printed during July and August 1776. Broadside editions were printed in Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Five of the broadside editions did not identify their printer or place of publication, but were likely also produced within these six states.

At the same time, the Declaration was being reprinted in many regional newspapers, appearing first in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on 6 July and subsequently in some thirty other newspapers before the end of the month. Newspaper printings of the Declaration appeared in three states that did not produce a broadside edition: Maryland, Connecticut, and Virginia.

The present copy is almost certainly from the first broadside printing of the Declaration in Massachusetts. The Declaration has been thought to have first been published in Massachusetts on 16 July in the fifth issue of the short-lived American Gazette: or, The Constitutional Journal. The American Gazette was the only newspaper then operating in Salem, and it issued only seven numbers in June and July of 1776. (Only four other newspapers were being published in Massachusetts in July of 1776; the Continental Journal and New England Chronicle in Boston, the Essex Journal in Newburyport, and the Massachusetts Spy in Worcester.) The Declaration first appeared in Boston newspapers, the Continental Journal and the New England Chronicle, on 18 July, and so it is probable that the two Boston broadside printings (joint ventures by the two printers working in town that July, John Gill and the partnership of Powars and Willis) were done after the newspaper text appeared. 

The American Gazette was published by John Rogers at the Printing Office of Ezekiel Russell. In addition to printing this weekly newspaper, Russell was also the official printer for the colony of Massachusetts. In that capacity, Russell printed an official broadside for the state, pursuant to a resolution passed by the Council of the Commonwealth on 17 July: "Ordered, That the Declaration of Independence be printed; and a Copy sent to the Ministers of each Parish, of every Denomination, within this State; and that they severally be required to read the same to their respective Congregations, as soon as divine Service is ended, in the Afternoon, on the first Lord's Day after they shall have received it: — And after such Publication thereof, to deliver the said Declaration to the Clerks of their several Towns, or Districts; who are hereby required to record the same in their respective Town, or District Books, there to remain as a perpetual Memorial thereof." This official edition follows the format of the Dunlap broadside closely, being set in a single, broad column, and an imprint at the bottom identifies E. Russell of Salem as the printer.

On first glance, the present broadside has little in common with the official Russell broadside: it is set in four columns; it varies considerably in its capitalization of nouns; it uses the spelling "Connections" and "Connection," while Russell's official broadside prefers "Connexions" and "Connexion." 

But because the two broadsides share very similar (though not identical) typography and format of the nine lines of title heading, this anonymously printed broadside has been traditionally attributed to Ezekiel Russell, beginning with Michael Walsh's 1949 study of "Contemporary Broadside Editions of the Declaration of Independence."  

However, until now no one has recognized that the present broadside is printed from the exact setting of type used for the printing of the Declaration in the 16 July issue of the American Gazette. The text in the Gazette occupies the full three columns of the first page and the first column and a quarter of the fourth page. The type was reimposed in broadsheet format from folio (or perhaps vice versa), shifted to fit into four columns, and set with new title headlines and attestation, but otherwise the text of the two printings are identical, printed line-by-line from the same setting of type. The only variation between the two is that the final fourteen words of the final sentence of the penultimate paragraph of the Declaration ("them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war; in peace, friends.") occupy two tight lines in the newspaper printing, while in the broadside, the closing word "friends" is carried on to the next line, loosening the two preceding it.

This alteration would argue for the broadside having been printed first, with the lines being tightened in order for the text of the Declaration to fit with the rest of the week's news. Had the newspaper been printed first, it seems unlikely that this single line would have been reset, considering that several other lines of text throughout are just as tight.

Moreover, if this edition was issued by John Rogers, the ostensible publisher of the American Gazette, although evidently also Ezekiel Russell's journeyman, it would help explain why Russell—after printing the state's official broadside edition of the Declaration—issued his own version for private sale—something he would have been unlikely to do had he been profiting from the present edition (see item 11 below). These competing Salem broadsides might also be part of the reason why the American Gazette and the Rogers–Russell partnership only lasted another two issues.

Even more than the Dunlap first broadside, the contemporary regional printings of the Declaration of Independence provide a tangible link to the birth of the United States. Utilitarian and intrinsically ephemeral productions, all of the 1776 broadside Declarations are scarce—and in the marketplace they are increasingly rare. Of all the thirteen known 1776 broadside editions combined, it is estimated that perhaps as few as one hundred copies survive, with, ironically, the Dunlap first printing accounting for more than a quarter of all known survivals. The vast majority of all the 1776 declaration broadsides—at least seventy-nine—are in public institutions.

When Congress had a second official broadside of the Declaration printed in January 1777, President of Congress John Hancock sent copies to the respective state governments with this admonition: "As there is not a more distinguished Event in the History of America, than the Declaration of her Independence-nor any that in all Probability, will so much excite the Attention of future Ages, it is highly proper that the Memory of that Transaction, together with the Causes that gave Rise to it, should be preserved in the most careful Manner that can be devised. I am therefore commanded by Congress to transmit you the enclosed Copy of the Act of Independence with the List of the several Members of Congress subscribed thereto and to request, that you will cause the same to be put upon Record, that it may henceforth form a Part of the Archives of your State, and remain a lasting Testimony of your approbation of that necessary & important Measure." Thanks to enterprising printers like John Rogers and Ezekiel Russell, patriots in Salem, and throughout the newly independent United States, were able to anticipate this congressional resolution and preserve their own copies of this "necessary & important Measure."