The Library of Congress owns two of the surviving 26 copies of the first printing of the Declaration of Independence, also known as the “Dunlap Broadside,” printed in Philadelphia on the evening of July 4 and the early morning of July 5, 1776.
After the final wording of the Declaration was approved by the delegates of the Continental Congress on July 4, a hand-written version was sent down the street to the shop of John Dunlap, the official printer of the Congress.
The printers in Dunlap’s shop likely spent that evening setting the type, and printed a proof copy, made a few minor edits, and then printed about 200 copies of the Declaration. Congress ordered that copies be sent to governmental authorities and military commanders, as well the British Crown in London.
One of the Library’s copies, which is incomplete, belonged to George Washington and is part of his papers in the Manuscript Division. It was sent to him by John Hancock soon after its printing. This copy contains only the first 54 lines of the Declaration, but the final third is missing. The other copy, which is complete and in very good condition, is housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. It came to the Library in 1867 with the purchase of the extraordinary collection of early Americana amassed by Peter Force.
Peter Force (1790-1868), a veteran of the War of 1812, was a publisher and politician, serving two terms as the mayor of Washington, DC, and issuing newspapers and government publications. He was also one of the first and most prominent collectors of early American documents. In the course of preparing his “Documentary History of the American Revolution,” a compilation better known today as American Archives, he assembled what was at the time one of the largest private collections of printed and manuscript sources on American history in the United States. So when the Peter Force Library was purchased by act of Congress in 1867, in single stroke, the Library of Congress established its pre-eminent collection of eighteenth-century American newspapers, early American imprints, manuscripts, and rare maps, atlases, and incunabula. This included a copy of the the first printing of the Declaration of Independence.
The incunabula, pre-1801 American imprints, and other rare publications from the Force Library have been absorbed into the collections of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division and other parts of the Library. Force had gathered pamphlets from such important early collectors as William Duane, Ebenezer Hazard, Jacob Bailey Moore, Israel Thorndike, and Oliver Wolcott. It is estimated that over 8,000 of the approximately 40,000 pamphlets and broadsides purchased from Force were printed before 1800. These include over 200 important broadsides produced by the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, all of which have been digitized and are freely available on the Library’s website.
In order to make images of the Dunlap Broadside available to all for free, the Library of Congress has scanned it at high resolution and mounted it in its digital repository. Washington’s incomplete copy in the Manuscript Division’s George Washington Papers is available here.
Frederick R. Goff. The John Dunlap Broadside: the first printing of the Declaration of Independence. Washington: The Library of Congress, 1976. https://lccn.loc.gov/76608236
Frederick R. Goff. Peter Force. “Separate from the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, volume forty-four, first quarter, 1950.” [New York]: The Bibliographical Society of America, 1950. https://lccn.loc.gov/50004269