Monday, June 4, 2007

"Mr Thomson - is the Declaration of Independence Ready to be Signed?"

Hancock: Is the Declaration of Independence ready to be signed?

Thomson: It is

Hancock: Then I suggest we do so.

But did they? Actually, No.

The handwritten copy of the Declaration was sent a few blocks away to the printing shop of John Dunlap. That night he made an estimated 200-500 copies of the document known as broadsides. It was "signed" by John Hancock and Charles Thompson. Their names are at the bottom in printed not signature form. The document was not actually signed on July 4. On July 5, 1776 copies were distributed to members of Congress to be "published" in their own states. It was not until July 15 that the document actually read "the unanimous Declaration of the 13 States of America." On July 19 Congress ordered that the document be engrossed (handwritten in fair script on parchment) by Timothy Matlack the assistant secretary, to Charles Thomson, of the Congress. The broadside with only Hancock and Thomson's names attached was sent to King George later that year. It was not until 1777 that the names of all the signers were added to the Declaration.

Most of Congress signed the document on August 2, 1776. A second printing was commissioned and completed by Mary Katharine Goddard on January 18, 1777. For the first time all signers were listed. In 1823 William Stone made an engraving of the document using a wet ink transfer process. The document was moistened and the wet ink was transferred to a copper plate and then painstakingly etched. It is the copies of the Stone engraving that are used today. Sadly, however, that compromised the quality of the original and through time, travel, sunlight, and the wet ink process the original document disintegrated and no longer exists.

25 known broadside copies exist today. Most of them are in museums or universities; 2 are in the UK. The one closest to home is at Indiana University at Bloomington (do I hear road trip?) and 1 is owned by Norman Lear of "All in the Family" fame. 1 unsigned copy sold for $8.14 million in NY in 2000. It was found concealed behind the backing of a painting bought at a flea market for $4!

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