The Declaration of Independence | The first book-form printing of the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence
"In Congress, July 4, 1776. A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled," pp. 41–46 in The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution. Carefully collected from the best Authorities; with some Observations, on their Peculiar Fitness, for the United Colonies in General, and Pennsylvania in Particular. By Demophilus. Philadelphia: Printed, and Sold, by Robert Bell, (July 8,) 1776
8vo in half-sheets (199 x 115 mm). With the scarce and important terminal advertisement leaf (detached and chipped at margins); some light browning and spotting, miniscule tear to fore-edge margin of final few leaves. Disbound. Red morocco folding-case gilt.
The first book-form printing of the Declaration of Independence, a stop-press addition to a Philadelphia political tract made just a day or two after John Dunlap first printed the revolutionary Congressional resolve.
Dunlap was the official printer to the Continental Congress, and he printed the Declaration in broadside format on the evening of July 4 and into the morning of July 5, 1776. The text next appeared in the July 6 issue of the Philadelphia newspaper The Pennsylvania Evening Post, and two days later it was printed in Dunlap’s own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Packet, or General Advertiser. An undated German-language broadside of the Declaration printed by Melchoir Steiner and Charles Cist was likely issued about this time as well.
July 8 is evidently the day that the patriot-printer Robert Bell published his edition of the Declaration, appended to the pseudonymous Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution, as evidenced by the terminal advertising leaf in the publication, which is datelined "Philadelphia, July 8, 1776." On this final leaf, Bell announces his publication, "In a few days," of John Cartwright’s anonymous American Independence the Interest and Glory of Great Britain, which had first appeared early in the year in a London edition. Advertisements for Genuine Principles in the 9 July issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post and the 10 July issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette state that the work was "just printed, published and now selling by Robert Bell." So Bell's printing is not simply the first book printing of the Declaration, it is one of the earliest printings overall—and one of the rarest.
Demophilus was probably the pen name of George Bryan, a radical Whig who helped to draft the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution, although Howes tentatively attributes the work to Samuel Bryant. The Genuine Principles was intended to influence the delegates to Pennsylvania's constitutional convention; Demophilus noted in his introduction, "A Convention being soon to sit in Philadelphia; I have thought it my duty to collect some sentiments from a certain very scarce book, entitled An Historical Essay on the English Constitution [by Allan Ramsay], and publish them, with whatever improving observations our differing circumstances may suggest, for the perusal of the gentlemen concerned in the arduous task of framing a constitution."
Bell must have had Genuine Principles on the press when Dunlap's broadside appeared. He added a gathering at the end to accommodate the Declaration and provided a brief but stirring preface at the conclusion of Demophilus's text: "The events which have given birth to this mighty revolution; and will vindicate the provisions that shall be wisely made against our ever again relapsing into a state of bondage and misery, cannot be better set forth than in the following Declaration of American Independence." The Declaration did inspire Pennsylvania's constitutional convention, which convened on July 15 with Benjamin Franklin presiding.
It is appropriate that Robert Bell first printed the Declaration in book form; he was the first printer of Common Sense and an ardent patriot. Bell's later "Additions" to Paine's works included "The Propriety of Independancy," which was signed by Demophilus.
Very rare: while there are copies of Genuine Principles in a number of major libraries and historical societies, only three other copies have appeared at auction since the Streeter sale.
Celebration of My Country 66; ESTC W20371; Evans 14734; Hildeburn 3372; Howes B900; Matyas, Checklist of Books, Pamphlets, and Periodicals, Printing the U.S. Declaration of Independence 76-01; Revolutionary Hundred 41 note; Sabin 26964; Streeter 2:778. Not in Adams, American Independence
Condition as described in catalogue entry.
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