A rare, contemporary broadside edition of the Declaration of Independence
A rare, contemporary broadside edition of the Declaration of Independence

[JOHN RODGERS, C.14-16 JULY 1776]

A rare, contemporary broadside edition of the Declaration of Independence
[John Rodgers, c.14-16 July 1776]
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE – In Congress, July 4, 1776. A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness … We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is, and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest, Charles Thompson [sic], Secretary. [Salem, Massachusetts: printed by John Rogers at the Printing-Office of Ezekiel Russell, 14-16 July 1776].

One of only six recorded copies of the first broadside edition of the Declaration of Independence printed in Massachusetts. The Copley copy. The Declaration, Thomas Jefferson later wrote, was intended ''to be an expression of the American mind,'' reflecting ''the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion'' (letter to Henry Lee, 8 May 1825). The Continental Congress, after authorizing the writing of the Declaration and approving the text submitted by Thomas Jefferson and his committee, took steps to ensure the rapid dissemination of the historic document. When the approved text was adopted on 4 July 1776, Congress directed that copies ''be sent to the several Assemblies, Conventions & Committees or Councils of Safety and that it be proclaimed in each of the United States.''

Philadelphia printer John Dunlap, working on the night of 4 July, set in type a bold broadside of the Declaration, and beginning on 5 & 6 July, John Hancock, President of Congress dispatched copies to the state assemblies and to Generals George Washington and Artemas Ward. The quick dissemination of the historic text of the Declaration may be vividly traced in newspapers and broadside editions from its birthplace in Philadelphia throughout the thirteen self-proclaimed states, as rapidly as express riders and the post could carry it. Philadelphians saw this critical document published first on 6 July in the Pennsylvania Evening Post. Those in Baltimore were able to read the critical document as early as 9 July in Dunlap's Maryland Gazette; New Yorkers could read it between 10 and 15 July in three of that city's newspapers and three broadside printings. Mary Goddard’s Maryland Journal printed it in Baltimore on 10 July. The Maryland Gazette, in Annapolis, published it on the 11th. The next three weeks saw newspaper or broadside printings in New London, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Norwich, Exeter, Salem, Worcester, New Haven, Portsmouth, and Williamsburg.

Of the more than a dozen contemporary broadsides of the Declaration, five bear no imprints and this is the only edition set into four columns. Michael Walsh, in his 1949 study, "Contemporary Broadside Editions of the Declaration of Independence," attributed this copy to Ezekiel Russell. Further research has indicated that the text of the present edition matches almost exactly the typesetting used for the edition printed in the 16 July 1776 issue of the American Gazette printed by John Rogers in Ezekiel Russel's shop. In that issue, the text appears in three columns on the first page, and the fourth column set onto page four. A significant variation between the newspaper and broadside can be found in the last fourteen words of the final sentence of the penultimate paragraph. These are packed into two tight lines in the newspaper edition ("them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace, friends"), while "friends" has been carried over to the following line in the broadside edition, allowing for more spacious type tracking. This alteration suggests strongly that the broadside was printed before the 16 July issue of the Gazette—the line subsequently tightened to fit the Declaration in with the rest of the news. If the newspaper edition had been set first, there would have been no compelling reason to broaden the text spacing as the following lines in the broadside are set in a similarly tight manner. Additionally, in line two of the first column of the broadside, a space appears between the “n” and the “t” in “events.” This was corrected in the Gazette. And finally, the third and fourth columns of the broadside are shorter than the first two to make room for the signing information. If the newspaper edition had been printed first, it would have been a simple matter of counting the number of lines were left in the newspaper to fill the last two columns of the broadside. The number would have been 114 lines to produce two even columns of 57 lines each. However, the broadside’s third column bears 58 lines while the fourth has 57, although they are made to appear even by additional space added between the paragraphs.

A note on the text. This broadside edition appears to be based on the 6 July 1776 issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post rather than from John Dunlap's 4 July 1776 broadside, based on a close study of the capitalization found in each. The Post's text appears to hew closely to Thomas Jefferson's sparing use of capital letters while Dunlap follows more closely John Adams's penchant for using capital letters for effect and well beyond any grammatical necessity. This would suggest that there may have been two distinct manuscript copies of the Declaration’s text as approved by the Continental Congress on 4 July 1776: one penned by Adams (or Charles Thomson) and another by Jefferson. Interestingly Ezekiel Russell's official Massachusetts printing (Walsh 13) corresponds more closely to the capitalizations found in Dunlap's copy. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of either of these manuscripts remains unknown, but it is very likely they were cut apart in order for multiple compositors to set the type. When complete, the manuscript copies were rendered ephemeral and probably thrown away. We are grateful to Seth Kaller for his assistance in cataloging this broadside. For a fuller discussion on this subject, see Richard Wendorf, "Declaring, Drafting, and Composing American Independence,” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. Vol. 108, no. 3 (September 2014), pp. 307-324.

Rare. Evans 1516; Ford, Massachusetts Broadsides, 1953; Walsh 12. Only six copies, including the present one, are recorded extant. Of these, four are held by institutions: Georgetown University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Historical Society, and Peabody Essex Museum. This is one of only two copies in private hands of the first broadside Declaration of Independence printed in Massachusetts—“the Cradle of Liberty."

Broadside, 434 x 360mm, on an untrimmed sheet of laid paper with deckled edges, unwatermarked (silked, light spotting, old creases resulting in several pinholes, paper flaw to lower right corner repaired, some mounting remnants on verso). Docketed on verso in a contemporary hand: "A Declaration of Independence July 4 1776—". Matted and framed. Provenance: James S. Copley (his sale, Sotheby's New York, 17 June 2010, lot 557).

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