About the Declaration: an evolution in printed copies

The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776.  The approved wording was then turned over to the printer John Dunlap to compose and print copies. On July 5, about 200 copies of the first printing of the Declaration were delivered to Congress.

The two names appearing in the document were those of John Hancock, the President of Congress, and Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress. Their names were printed, not written.

This document is known to history as the Dunlap Broadside.

This was the official Declaration of Independence document for the next seven months. It was reprinted frequently, appearing in newspapers and other places. Copies are rare. Only 26 of the original Dunlap Broadsides have been located, 23 in the United States and three in Great Britain.

Fifty members of Congress signed a slightly redesigned copy of the Declaration on August 2, 1776. Several more signed upon returning to Congress in the fall. The 56th and final signer of the Declaration was Thomas McKean, who did so in 1777 or later1. The completed document was then printed and sent to each of the 13 colonies. It became the official document of the Declaration of Independence.

Here is a version of the document as we know it today:

  1. “…a letter written in Thomas McKean’s own hand to Mr. Alexander J. Dallas of Pennsylvania. The letter is dated 26th September, 1796 and was subsequently published in ‘Sanderson’s Lives’” See also https://declaration.fas.harvard.edu/blog/april-mckean ↩︎