DRAFTING THE DOCUMENTS
(Information is based on the on-line files of the
Library of Congress Web site.)
Chronology Of Events:
June 7, 1776 to January 18, 1777
June 7 -- Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, receives Richard Henry Lee's resolution
urging Congress to declare independence.
June 11 -- Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert
R. Livingston appointed to a committee to draft a declaration of independence.
American army retreats to Lake Champlain from Canada.
June 12 - 27 -- Jefferson, at the request of the committee, drafts a declaration,
of which only a fragment exists. Jefferson's clean, or "fair" copy, the "original
Rough draught," is reviewed by the committee. Both documents are in the manuscript
collections of the Library of Congress.
June 28 -- A fair copy of the committee draft of the Declaration of Independence is
read in Congress.
July 1 - 4 -- Congress debates and revises the Declaration of Independence.
July 2 -- Congress declares independence as the British fleet and army arrive at New
July 4 -- Congress adopts the
Declaration of Independence in the morning of a bright,
sunny, but cool Philadelphia day. John Dunlap prints the Declaration of Independence.
These prints are now called "Dunlap Broadsides." Twenty-four copies are known to exist,
two of which are in the Library of Congress. One of these was Washington's personal copy.
July 5 -- John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, dispatches the first of
Dunlap's broadsides of the Declaration of Independence to the legislatures of New Jersey and Delaware.
July 6 -- Pennsylvania Evening Post of July 6 prints the first newspaper
rendition of the Declaration of Independence.
July 8 -- The first public reading of the Declaration is in Philadelphia.
July 9 -- Washington orders that the Declaration of Independence be read before the
American army in New York -- from his personal copy of the "Dunlap Broadside."
July 19 -- Congress orders the Declaration of Independence engrossed (officially
inscribed) and signed by members.
August 2 -- Delegates begin to sign engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence.
A large British reinforcement arrives at New York after being repelled at Charleston,
January 18 -- Congress, now sitting in Baltimore, Maryland, orders that signed copies
of the Declaration of Independence printed by Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore be
sent to the states.
Drafting the Documents:
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia behind a
veil of Congressionally imposed secrecy in June 1776 for a country wracked by
military and political uncertainties. In anticipation of a vote for independence,
the Continental Congress on June 11 appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams,
Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston as a committee to draft
a declaration of independence. The committee then delegated Thomas Jefferson to
undertake the task. Jefferson worked diligently in private for days to compose a
document. Proof of the arduous nature of the work can be seen in the fragment of
the first known composition draft of the declaration, which is on public display
here for the first time.
Jefferson then made a clean or "fair" copy of the composition declaration, which
became the foundation of the document, labeled by Jefferson as the "original Rough
draught." Revised first by Adams, then by Franklin, and then by the full committee, a total of forty-seven alterations including the insertion of three complete paragraphs was made on the text before it was presented to Congress on June 28. After v
oting for independence on July 2, the Congress then continued to refine the document, making thirty-nine additional revisions to the committee draft before its final adoption on the morning of July 4. The "original Rough draught" embodies the multiplicity
of corrections, additions and deletions that were made at each step. Although most of the alterations are in Jefferson's handwriting (Jefferson later indicated the changes he believed to have been made by Adams and Franklin), quite naturally he opposed m
any of the changes made to his document.
Congress then ordered the Declaration of Independence printed and late on July 4,
John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer, produced the first printed text of the
Declaration of Independence, now known as the "Dunlap Broadside." The next day
John Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress, began dispatching copies
of the Declaration to America's political and military leaders. On July 9, George
Washington ordered that his personal copy of the "Dunlap Broadside," sent to him
by John Hancock on July 6, be read to the assembled American army at New York.
In 1783 at the war's end, General Washington brought his copy of the broadside
home to Mount Vernon. This remarkable document, which has come down to us only
partially intact, is accompanied in this exhibit by a complete "Dunlap Broadside"
-- one of only twenty-four known to exist.
On July 19, Congress ordered the production of an engrossed (officially inscribed)
copy of the Declaration of Independence, which attending members of the Continental
Congress, including some who had not voted for its adoption, began to sign on
August 2, 1776. This document is on permanent display at the National Archives.
On July 4, 1995, more than two centuries after its composition, the Declaration of
Independence, just as Jefferson predicted on its fiftieth anniversary in his letter
to Roger C. Weightman, towers aloft as "the signal of arousing men to burst the
chains...to assume the blessings and security of self-government" and to restore
"the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion."
These images are from a special exhibition in a series of public previews of unique
documents from the collections of the Library of
Congress. These previews will culminate
in the permanent exhibition, "Treasures of the Library of Congress," funded by the
Xerox Foundation, which will open in 1997, the 100th anniversary of the Thomas
One of twenty-four surviving copies of the first printing of the
Declaration of Independence done by Philadelphia printer John Dunlap in the evening
of July 4,1776.
George Washington's personal copy of the "Dunlap Broadside" (131k) of the
Declaration of Independence, sent on July 6 to George Washington by John Hancock,
president of the Continental Congress.The text is broken at lines thirty-four and
fifty-four, with the text below line fifty-four missing.
General Washington had the Declaration read to
his assembled troops in New York on July 9. Later that night, the Americans destroyed a
bronze statue of Great
Britain's King George III (77k) which stood at the foot of Broadway
on the Bowling Green (The tail of the horse is in the New York Historical Museum).
A contemporaneous print representing the committee of five delegates, chaired
by Thomas Jefferson, that was appointed to prepare a declaration of independence. They
are shown submitting their draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental
Congress, June 28, 1776
, based on Robert Edge Pine's painting of the presentation
of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress, is considered
one of the most realistic renditions of this historic event. Jefferson is the tall
person depositing the Declaration of Independence on the table. Benjamin Franklin
sits to his right. John Hancock sits behind the table. Fellow committee members,
John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston stand (left to right)
An 1876 print representing the
Committee," (107k) chaired by Thomas Jefferson, which was charged in June 1776 with
drafting a declaration of independence for action by the Continental Congress.
The "Declaration Committee," which included Thomas Jefferson of Virginia,
Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R.
Livingston of New York, and John Adams of Massachusetts, was appointed by Congress
on June 11, 1776, to draft a declaration in anticipation of an expected vote in
favor of American independence, which occurred on July 2. Currier and Ives prepared
this imagined scene of the writing of the Declaration for the 100th anniversary of
the Declaration of Independence.