The National Archives, the guardian of the Declaration of Independence, has shuffled through its files and come up with a sampling of Revolutionary factoids for the Fourth of July.
The original declaration remains tucked away in a secure "undisclosed location" until its latest preservation and re-encasement and the renovation of the Rotunda of the National Archives are complete. The declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights will go on display again in September at the Archives building on the Mall in Washington.
For this Independence Day, the Archives will display with suitable ceremony at Union Station in Washington one of the last remaining broadside versions of the declaration printed on the evening of July 4, 1776, by John Dunlap in Philadelphia.
History gleaned from the Archives and other sources indicates that Dunlap, the official printer to the Congress, turned out 200 to 500 copies signed only by John Hancock, president of the Congress, and Charles Thomson, secretary. One went to George Washington, the commanding general of the American forces, on July 6. He read it three days later to his troops assembled in New York. Another went to Britain's King George III to let him know he was no longer sovereign in the colonies.
Just 25 copies of the "Dunlap Broadside" remain, including a piece of one at the Maryland Historical Society. (Its owner, Charles Ridgely of Hampton, used the piece as an envelope; the whereabouts of the rest of Ridgely's copy are not known.) The copy to be displayed at Union Station was found in 1989 behind a picture at a flea market in Adamstown, Pa. Norman Lear, the producer of such television series as All in the Family, and a partner bought it three years ago at a Sotheby's auction for $8.14 million. Lear put it on the road almost immediately for his advocacy group, People for the American Way.
The daylong festivities today in Washington will include a dramatic reading of the declaration by Tony Award-winning actress Jane Alexander; a presentation of a video history of the document narrated by actress Reese Witherspoon, star of Legally Blonde 2 and a descendant of John Witherspoon of New Jersey, a signer of the declaration; and re-enactors from the American Historical Theatre portraying Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other signers.
The archivists argue that July 2, 1776, when the Continental Congress actually voted for the declaration, should have been Independence Day. Signer John Adams thought so, too. He believed July 2 would be marked with celebrations and fireworks. He apparently didn't envision barbecues. But the written original was dated July 4 and that's the day we celebrate.
And the Archives' official "engrossed" copy of the declaration, handwritten by a scribe named Thomas Matlack, wasn't signed by most of the delegates until Aug. 2, 1776. John Hancock signed first and Thomas McKean of Delaware is believed to have been the last to sign, perhaps not until after January 1777. John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania (born in Talbot County) who hoped for reconciliation with Britain, did not sign. Nor did Robert Livingston, who served on the Committee of Five formed to draft the Declaration. He was called home to New York before he could sign.
Jefferson, of course, wrote the declaration with the assistance and editing of Adams and Franklin, who incidentally was the oldest to sign. The fifth member of the committee was Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Jefferson's first "rough draught" - in his own hand with corrections, additions and deletions by Adams and Franklin - is in the Library of Congress. The Congress did more editing, notably the removal of a long paragraph denouncing George III for creating and maintaining the slave trade.
Fifty-six delegates signed the declaration, including four Marylanders, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Samuel Chase, Thomas Stone and William Paca. Carroll was probably the richest man in the United States when he signed - and a slaveholder, as were many others. He was the last surviving signer when he died in 1832, age 95, in the Carroll mansion on Lombard Street near Pratt Street. He's interred in the chapel at Doughoregan Manor, the family estate now surrounded by suburban sprawl near Columbia.
Over the years, Archives publicists say, the Declaration of Independence spent many years on the road. It was in Baltimore from December 1776 until March 1777, when Philadelphia was threatened with capture by the British and Congress met here.
After Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton, Congress ordered publication of authenticated copies of the declaration from Mary Katharine Goddard, publisher of The Maryland Journal. She worked from the original engrossed declaration.
Adams and Jefferson, of course, both died on the Fourth of July, 1826. Adams last words are recalled as "Jefferson still survives." Jefferson had actually died a few hours earlier.