America's Founding Documents

The Declaration of Independence

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.
Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence states the principles on which our government, and our identity as Americans, are based. Unlike the other founding documents, the Declaration of Independence is not legally binding, but it is powerful. Abraham Lincoln called it “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to tyranny and oppression.” It continues to inspire people around the world to fight for freedom and equality.

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The Declaration of Independence (front)

The condition of the parchment Declaration of Independence is a sign of the place it has held in the hearts of many Americans. Years of public display have faded and worn this treasured document. Today it is maintained under the most exacting archival conditions possible.

(National Archives Identifier: 1419123)

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The Declaration of Independence (back)

When we removed the Declaration of Independence from the Rotunda in 2001 to prepare it for a new case, we were able to look at the reverse side. No treasure map was found, but there was one line of text, "The Original Declaration of Independence July 4th 1776," written along the bottom edge. This docket (identifying label) could be read when the document was rolled up for storage.

(National Archives Identifier: 1419123)

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Stone Engraving of the Declaration of Independence

In 1820, the Declaration of Independence was already showing signs of age. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned printer William J. Stone to make a full-size copperplate engraving. This plate was used to print copies of the Declaration. The 1823 Stone engraving is the most frequently reproduced version of the Declaration.

(National Archives Identifier: 1656604 and 1656605)

 

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