June 18, 2003
Did You Know….
Independence Day Should Actually Be July 2?
And Other Little Known Facts About the Declaration of Independence
Original Document to Return to Public Display at the
National Archives in Washington, DC, September 18, 2003
Washington, DC – America’s revolutionary Charter of Freedom, the Declaration of Independence is a document upon which our nation’s founding principles were established. In celebration of Independence Day 2003, the National Archives and Records Administration is hosting “Freedom’s Journey, A National Archives 4th of July,” at Union Station in Washington, DC, which will feature an exhibition of the Norman Lear Broadside of the Declaration of Independence, time travelers, and other programs and activities designed for families who want to learn more about our nation’s most famous document. The original Declaration of Independence, which is held in trust for the American people by the National Archives, will return to public display in the Rotunda of the National Archives on September 18, 2003.
The Declaration of Independence set the course for our nation on a journey of freedom, which also led this historic document on its own journey. For example, did you know….:
- Who Authored the Declaration of Independence? Thomas Jefferson wrote
the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was then edited
by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson took their edits and incorporated
them into what would become the version finally adopted.
- Independence Day Should Have Been July 2 – July 2, 1776 is
the day that the Continental Congress actually voted for independence. John
Adams, in his writings, even noted that July 2 would be remembered in the
annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations.
The written Declaration of Independence was dated July 4 but wasn’t
actually signed until August 2. Fifty-six delegates eventually signed the
document, although all were not present on that day in August.
- Who Signed and In What Order? – John Hancock signed first,
with a large hand right in the middle because he was the President of the
Congress. The others signed by state delegation, beginning in the upper right
in one column, and then proceeding in five other columns, arranged from the
northernmost state (New Hampshire) to the southernmost (Georgia).
- Who Signed Last? It is believed Thomas McKean of Delaware was the
last person to sign. When Congress authorized the printing of an official
copy with the names attached in January 1777, McKean's name was not included.
He signed after that date, or the printer made a mistake by omitting him.
- On The Road Again – The Declaration of Independence
spent many years on the road. After the signing ceremony on August 2, it was
most likely filed in Philadelphia. On December 12, threatened by the British,
Congress adjourned and reconvened 8 days later in Baltimore, MD, where the
document remained until its return to Philadelphia in March of 1777. In the
years to follow, it traveled widely with the Continental Congress throughout
the Northeast, then moving to Washington, DC in 1800. In 1814, again threatened
by war, it was moved to an unused gristmill in Virginia for protection. On
August 24, as the British burned the White House, it was moved to Leesburg,
VA until September, when it returned to the nation’s capital. With the
exception of a trip to Philadelphia for the Centennial and to Fort Knox during
World War II, it has remained there ever since.
- If By Land or By Sea – The document has also experienced many
modes of travel. Initially, like other parchment documents of the time, the
Declaration was probably stored in a rolled format. Each time the document
was used, it would have been unrolled and re-rolled. It likely traveled by
light wagon and by horseback with the Continental Congress it its early years.
When it was first brought to Washington, it traveled by boat, down the Delaware
River and Bay, out into the ocean, into the Chesapeake Bay, and up the Potomac
to the new capital city. During World War II, it was moved by Pullman train
to Louisville, KY and transferred under armed guard to Fort Knox for safety
- Line of Descent – Actress Reese Witherspoon is a direct descendant of John Witherspoon, one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. John Witherspoon is pictured in a Barry Faulkner Mural, entitled “The Declaration of Independence,” which illustrates 28 delegates to the Continental Congress of 1776. This newly restored mural is hanging in the Rotunda of the National Archives.
About the National Archives:
The National Archives in Washington, DC reopens its Rotunda on September 18, 2003 to unveil the newly re-encased Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. This will mark the start of a whole new National Archives Experience that will educate and inspire Americans. The National Archives will celebrate the 227th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence with its traditional Fourth of July event, held this year at Union Station. The program theme, “Freedom’s Journey, A National Archives 4th of July” will include a day-long program with patriotic music, a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence and free family activities. For more information visit the National Archives online at www.archives.gov.