9 Surprising Facts About the Declaration of Independence

 

 

1. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4, 1776

The Second Continental Congress

The Second Continental Congress

It was actually signed on July 1st, 1776 during the Second Continental Congress that met in Philadelphia. The delegates then spent the next two days debating and revising the language of a statement drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Then on July 4th, Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. July 4th is now known as Independence Day. 

 

2. More than one copy exists

The Committee of Five–Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Robert Livingston 

The Committee of Five–Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Robert Livingston 

The “Committee of Five”—Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston—were tasked with overseeing the reproduction of the text at the shop of Philadelphia printer John Dunlap. Only 26 copies survived of the hundreds thought to have been printed on the night of July 4th. Most are in museums and three are privately owned. 

 

3. When news of the Declaration of Independence reached New York City, it started a riot

Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C., ca. 1859, Johannes Adam Simon Oertel

Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C., ca. 1859, Johannes Adam Simon Oertel

The Declaration of Independence had reached New York City on July 9th, 1776 and, at that time, hundreds of British naval ships were occupying New York Harbor. Later that day, a Colonial riot tore down a nearby statue of George III after George Washington, commander of the Continental forces in New York, read the document aloud in front of City Hall. The statue was subsequently melted down and shaped into more than 42,000 musket balls for the fledgling American army.

 

4. Eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were born in Britain

Debate during the Second Continental Congress

Debate during the Second Continental Congress

While the majority of the members of the Second Continental Congress were native-born Americans, eight of the men voting for independence from Britain were born there.

 

5. One signer later recanted

Richard Stockton and his signature on the Declaration of Independence

Richard Stockton and his signature on the Declaration of Independence

Richard Stockton, a lawyer from Princeton, New Jersey, became the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to recant his support of the revolution. On November 30, 1776, the hapless delegate was captured by the British and thrown in jail. After months of harsh treatment and meager rations, Stockton repudiated his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swore his allegiance to King George III. A broken man when he regained his freedom, he took a new oath of loyalty to the state of New Jersey in December 1777.

 

6. There was a 44-year age difference between the youngest and oldest signers

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin, 70 years old when he scrawled his name on the parchment. The youngest was Edward Rutledge, a lawyer from South Carolina who was only 26 at the time.

 

7. Two additional copies have been found in the last 25 years

In 1989, a Philadelphia man found an original Dunlap Broadside hidden in the back of a picture frame he bought at a flea market for $4. One of the few surviving copies from the official first printing of the Declaration, it was in excellent condition and sold for $8.1 million in 2000. A 26th known Dunlap broadside emerged at the British National Archives in 2009, hidden for centuries in a box of papers captured from American colonists during the Revolutionary War. One of three Dunlap broadsides at the National Archives, the copy remains there to this day.

 

8. The Declaration of Independence spent World War II in Fort Knox

Fort Knox

Fort Knox

On December 23, 1941, just over two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the signed Declaration, together with the Constitution, was removed from public display and prepared for evacuation out of Washington, D.C. Under the supervision of armed guards, the founding document was packed in a specially designed container, latched with padlocks, sealed with lead and placed in a larger box. All told, 150 pounds of protective gear surrounded the parchment. On December 26 and 27, accompanied by Secret Service agents, it traveled by train to Louisville, Kentucky, where a cavalry troop of the 13th Armored Division escorted it to Fort Knox. The Declaration was returned to Washington, D.C., in 1944.

 

9. There is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence

The back of the Declaration of Independence 

The back of the Declaration of Independence 

Written on the back: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”

No one knows who exactly wrote this or when, but during the Revolutionary War years the parchment was frequently rolled up for transport. It’s thought that the text was added as a label.

 

 

 

 

 

*Information gathered from U.S. National Archives and History.com