After the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the delegates wanted to spread word of their momentous action throughout the Colonies as quickly as possible.
The president of Congress, John Hancock, ordered the document to be printed as a broadside, a single-sheet format popular in that era for quickly distributing important information.
That first printing of the Declaration today is known as the Dunlap Broadside, named for the man who produced it for Congress, Philadelphia printer John Dunlap. Original copies are extremely rare: Only about two dozen survive, most of them held by institutions in the U.S. and a few by British institutions and private individuals.
The Library of Congress holds two copies. One, part of the George Washington Papers in the Manuscript Division, survives only in incomplete form: The text below line 54 is missing. The second copy, held by the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, is complete.
In keeping with congressional resolutions, Hancock on July 6 had dispatched one of Dunlap’s newly printed broadsides to Gen. Washington, then in New York with his troops, and asked him to “have it proclaimed at the Head of the Army in the Way you shall think most proper.”
On the evening of July 9, with British warships visible offshore, Washington assembled his troops and had the Declaration read to them from the broadside now in the Washington papers. They were, the Declaration asserted, no longer subjects of a king. Instead, they were citizens and equals in a new democracy.
Later that night, to Washington’s dismay, a riled-up crowd pulled down an equestrian statue of King George III, located at the foot of Broadway on the Bowling Green. Ahead lay seven years of war and, eventually, the independence proclaimed to Washington’s troops from a broadside now preserved at the Library.
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