Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Unsung Patriots: The Printing of the Declaration of Independence

Happy Independence Day!

Something special happened over two centuries ago...
Thomas Jefferson first submitted his draft of the 
Declaration of Independence to 
John Adams and Benjamin Franklin because 
he especially valued their judgment.

(Picture taken from the HBO series  "John Adams")
I cannot think of another document more important to the United States of America than the Declaration of Independence.  No,  I haven't forgotten about the Constitution.  But without the Declaration there would be no Constitution.
This is why I try to actively celebrate and write about it,  in some form or another,  annually,  for the Declaration is  our liberty.  As is written in the context:  “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."  And, a number of years later,  in 1783,  Benjamin Franklin wrote:  "Where liberty dwells,  there is my country." 
This is why I have two framed copies of the Declaration of Independence hanging in my house:  one in my living room and one in my period parlor - one a printed copy from mid-July,  1776,  and the other a handwritten copy from later that month.
Two differing copies of the same thing...
So this year I thought I would write a post about the Declaration from a slightly different angle;  I want to give a little kudos to the men who originally printed out the broadsides to be sent out right off the presses for public reading back in that summer of 1776,  for they put their lives on the line as treasonists nearly as much as the signers did.

Let's begin with a quick overview of events leading up to the writing of the Declaration:
On June 7,  1776,  Richard Henry Lee,  a delegate to the Second Continental Congress,  presented a draft of a resolution that called for the Congress to declare a separation from British rule.
Understandably,  there was much hesitation;  should Congress again attempt some sort of reconciliation with the Mother Country,  or should they declare nationhood and risk the increased wrath of the British monarchy?
They were divided on the issue and discussion ensued.  It was three days later when they voted to postpone consideration of  Lee's resolution until July 1st,  1776.  On that date,  Congress would reopen the debate on the issue of independence.  Meanwhile,  a committee would be formed to draft a proposed declaration of independence.
The Committee of Five
It was a committee of five - Benjamin Franklin,  John Adams,  and Thomas Jefferson,  along with Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman - who had drafted the formal declaration to be ready when Congress voted.
Thomas Jefferson,  as the main writer of the document,  never claimed originality for the philosophy he embodied in what he had written.  It was an expression of the mind of the American patriots of that age and he was among the first of these.  In explaining his involvement, Jefferson said he was asked by the others in this committee to write the draft.  There appears to have been several meetings of the committee,  discussing the general character and form of the document,  including the idea of a government by consent based upon rights derived from natural law,  which was an ancient one.  But this theory of government in the Declaration of Independence was the first example in history in which a new nation erected its government  "of the people,  by the people and for the people."
Jefferson first submitted his draft to Adams and Franklin because he especially valued their judgment.  Suggestions of theirs were written in,  and the document was accepted by the full committee. 
The approval of this resolution for independence from Britain was passed on July 2 at the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia with no opposing vote cast.  And it was on that same day that the Pennsylvania Evening Post published this:  “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”
From that point,  we now considered ourselves to be a new nation.
Page 1 of John Adams' letter to Abigail
Page 2 of John Adams' letter to Abigail
The next day,  July 3,  John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:  "The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha,  in the History of America.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated,  by succeeding Generations,  as the great anniversary Festival.  It ought to be commemorated,  as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Act of Devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews,  Games,  Sports,  Guns,  Bells,  Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."    
So why do we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day and not July 2nd as John Adams noted?
We do so because the Declaration of Independence itself was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4,  1776,  making it  "official."
Should we vote for independence or not?
(Picture taken from the HBO series  "John Adams")
Eighty six alterations were made to the draft of the Declaration before Congress approved the document on July 4th,  1776.  Once approved,  the manuscript,  possibly Thomas Jefferson's  "fair copy"  of his rough draft,  was taken to printer John Dunlap that very afternoon to typeset and print copies.  John Dunlap,  the  "official printer to the Continental Congress,"  was born in Strabane,  Northern Ireland in 1746 and came to the American Colonies as a boy of ten.  He was apprenticed to his uncle William Dunlap,  a printer in Philadelphia,  whose shop was located near the corner of 2nd and Market Streets,  just blocks away from the State House  (Independence Hall),  and he took the business over from his uncle in 1766.  By 1771,  he printed a weekly newspaper,  "The Pennsylvania Packet or The General Advertiser."  
It was in 1776 that Dunlap was named printer to The Continental Congress.
An original version printed by John
Dunlap on the night of July 4,  1776.
And so it was on that historical day and date of the 4th of July in 1776 when Dunlap was commissioned to produce the first printed versions of the Declaration of Independence in that same Philadelphia shop once belonging to his uncle.  For the time he printed that day and well into the evening,  he was supervised by the drafting committee.  Dunlap continued working feverishly throughout the night,  printing approximately 200 broadsides so they could be posted,  read aloud,  and distributed to the thirteen states and elsewhere by couriers on July 5th to alert the citizenry of this momentous event in time.  As John Adams later wrote,  "We were all in haste."
A copy of the printed version of the approved Declaration was also inserted into the  "rough journal"  of the Continental Congress for the previous day.  The text was followed by the words  "Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress,  John Hancock,  President.  Attest.  Charles Thomson,  Secretary."

The first reading of the Declaration...July 5th, 1776 in Philadelphia.
(from the HBO miniseries  "John Adams")
Copies were also dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies,  conventions,  and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental Army.  In fact,  it was one of these Dunlap broadsides that was delivered to George Washington in New York to be read aloud to the troops:
"George Washington,  General Orders,  July 9,  1776~
The Hon.  The Continental Congress,  impelled by the dictates of duty,  policy and necessity,  having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country,  and Great Britain,  and to declare the United Colonies of North America,  free and independent States:  The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades,  at Six O'Clock,  when the declaration of Congress,  shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure,  is to be read with an audible voice. 
The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer,  and soldier,  to act with Fidelity and Courage,  as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends  (under God)  solely on the success of our arms:  And that he is now in the service of a State,  possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit,  and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country."
Painting by Mort Kunstler
As Washington's soldiers stood ready for the brigadiers and colonels of their regiments to read the Declaration of Independence,  they first heard the words written above by their commander followed by Jefferson's stirring words explaining that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life,  liberty,  and the pursuit of happiness.
Down with King George!
The words were so moving that citizens who had heard the Declaration raced down Broadway toward a large statue of George III.  They toppled and decapitated it,   much in the same manner as you see in the picture to the left here,  and then later melting down the body for bullets that would be much needed in the coming battles to defend New York and the new nation that lay beyond it.

Of the many  "Dunlap broadsides”  of the Declaration that were printed on that most important of nights,  only twenty-five copies are known to exist today:  20 owned by American institutions,  including one which is currently housed at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia that was donated to the park by the heirs of Colonel John Nixon,  the man appointed by the sheriff of Philadelphia to read the Declaration aloud in the State House yard on July 8,  1776.  Two others are now owned by British institutions,  and three by private individuals.
By setting the world-changing document in type,  John Dunlap placed himself in harm’s way as much as any delegate.
A modified Mort Kunstler painting 
to depict what it may have looked like while the 
Declaration of Independence was being printed.
It is romantic to think that Benjamin Franklin,  the greatest printer of his day,  was there in Dunlap’s shop to supervise,  and that Jefferson,  the nervous author,  was also close at hand.  If so,  the Declaration was not only written by the founders,  but perhaps set into type and printed by them as well.  In every way they could,  these ink-splattered geniuses willed the document — and by extension the republic — into existence.  We’ll never know for sure.  But as Franklin might have appreciated:  print the legend.
Over the next two days,  the Dunlap broadsides were sent around the colonies — now states — and to dignitaries like George Washington,  who ordered the Declaration read to his troops.  A copy was also sent,  as it had to be,  to England,  where the news was received with considerably less enthusiasm.  These first printings may look less dramatic than the manuscript we know and love,  but they were created closer to the germinal moment than anything known to exist.
(From the New York Times)
Okay...yes...this is me at an ancient printing press.  I am not sure 
just how ancient,  but considering it is a printing press inside 
historic Greenfield Village pretty much says it's old.
The Dunlap copies,  by the way,  do not carry the same title of unanimity as the original engrossed copy due to New York's abstention until July 9th.  Instead,  the Dunlap copies carry the title  "In Congress July 4,  1776,  A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress Assembled."
Here we see the opening of the original printing of the Declaration,  originally stamped as 
broadside by printer John Dunlap on July 4,  1776 under Jefferson's supervision.  These 
broadsides were not signed,  though John Hancock's name was large in print.
The full engrossed copy so well known seen below was made later and was the version 
famously signed by the delegates.

Note the opening lines of the two versions differ.
We are now unanimous!
This is the print of which was signed  (mostly)  on 
August 2,  1776
(handwriting courtesy of  John Matlack)
When the Dunlap copy of the Declaration arrived in Boston about July 15,  printer John Gill,  a patriot and publisher who was also a leading advocate of American colonial independence from Britain,  set it in type the following day and had it ready for distribution on the 18th,  where it was was read from the balcony of the Old State House for the first time.  Large crowds gathered to hear the address.
Only three copies from this John Gill edition have survived. 

Partners in printing,  John Gill and Benjamin Edes were who I consider part of that large group of unsung patriots.  Known for the increasingly anti-British,  pro-independence stance of their publications as well as for their Boston Gazette weekly paper,  Gill and Edes were for some time official printers to the colonial government of Massachusetts.  However,  their propaganda activities cost them the appointment;  Edes helped to form the Sons of Liberty and,  through the Boston Gazette,  agitated against the Stamp Act,  the Townshend Acts and the tea tax.  The newspaper broke news about tax disputes,  the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party:  on Dec. 16,  1773,  Benjamin Edes hosted a group of men in the print shop before they set out for the three ships in the harbor called the Dartmouth,  the Eleanor,  and the Beaver,  to participate in what became known as the Boston Tea Party.
His son,  Peter,  who would turn 17 the next day,  saw some of what happened.  In a letter to his own grandson in 1836,  Peter Edes recounted what he remembered of that event:
"I knew but little about it,  as I was not admitted into their presence,  for fear,  I suppose,  of their being known,"  he wrote.
In 1775 Edes left Boston.
The type is set for the Boston edition
of the Declaration

(Pictures courtesy of the
 Printing Office of Edes and Gill)
John Gill stayed on,  and he was arrested by the British and charged with publishing  “treason,  sedition,  and rebellion.”  After the Declaration of Independence,  Gill resumed publishing a newspaper alone,  under the title Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser.  This,  however,  was but a pale shadow of the radical and rambunctious Gazette.  He also was restored as official printer,  this time to the state.
Now,  as for Boston's  first printing of the Declaration of Independence,  we find only one original copy of the Gill version still exists and was located in the collection of the Bostonian Society by Gary Gregory, founder and Shop Master of the recreated Edes & Gill printing shop as well as the company known as The History List.  Gary then had all 9.000 characters of type meticulously cast in lead to match the original document.
This true recreation was then printed by hand at the historic Printing Office of Edes and Gill on July 3rd  2012,  on the ancient Wooden Common Press using 100%  Cotton Linen,  Very-Fine Crane Laid paper,  marking the first time since July 1776  that anyone had printed the Boston Broadside of the Declaration of Independence. 
Opening its doors to the public in 2011,  the new version of the Printing Office of Edes & Gill is considered Boston’s only printer still doing the job in the old colonial ways,  and is located in the historic Clough House,  built in 1712,  and is part of the Old North Church Historic Site in Boston.
An exact replication of the Gill version of the Declaration.
(The new Printing Office of Edes & Gill,  by the way,  is non-profit 50(c)3 corporation funded entirely by donations,  gifts,  and the sale of materials printed on their historic press)  

A little bit on colonial printers and their occupation:
The folks who lived in the later colonial period were more remarkably informed than many give them credit for.  Like the tavern from that time,  the printing office was a center of local and imperial communications.  The broadsides and newspapers provided a way to exchange information and events between the thirteen colonies,  keeping people informed of major events,  influenced public opinion,  and,  as you have just read,  played a significant part in the decision to declare independence from Great Britain. 
Printers,  in many cases,  had to make their own paper - not an easy process - and though the paper production took several months,  the result was a quality that can last for five hundred years.
Many printers by mid-century used a popular typeface  (font)  called Caslon.  William Caslon I was an English gunsmith and designer of typefaces.  Around 1720 he created an extended set of serif typefaces known as Caslon. Benjamin Franklin,  who,  as you know,  was a printer himself,  liked the Caslon fonts so much that he hardly ever used any other typeface.  Ironically,  most of the type used by John Dunlap to compose the Declaration of Independence was likely from the Caslon type foundry – a British company,  and later  “letter-founder to the King.”  In fact,  the 1785 Caslon specimen book was even dedicated to King George III – the same King that the American colonists were declaring independence from!

It was also in the colonial period where we find that confusing  "long S"  - you know...the  's'  that looks like an  'f'?
See the long S?
Let's be honest - unless one is used to reading 250 year old documents,  American colonial handwriting and printing can look strange to many.  But if you want to understand or imitate colonial handwriting,  then using those long S's correctly is the most obvious thing to understand.  In colonial printing  'fonts,'  one can easily tell the  "s"  from a printed  "f"  by the little cross-bar being only on the left-hand side,  or may not be there at all.  In colonial handwriting,  the  "long s"  is written like an  "f,"  except the bottom loop is written clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. 
By the way,  the  "long s"  wasn't used randomly.  
Here are the rules for when to use it or help to understand how it's used in colonial handwriting:
Use the  "long s"  at the beginning and middle of words,  but use the regular  "s"  for the last letter of a word.
If there are two s's together,  use the  "long s"  for the first one and the regular  "s"  for the second one.  Use the regular  "s"  before and after the letter  "f"  (the real letter "f"!)
Use the regular  "S"  whenever the  "S"  is uppercase,  like at the beginning of a sentence.
Here is an original example of the colonial style of writing:
It's really not too difficult.  It just takes a little getting used to.
So,  for an idea of how a colonial printer's shop,  such as the ones owned by Dunlap or Gill,  worked to prepare to print,  the following,  taken from the Colonial Williamsburg pamphlet  "The Apprentice,"  explains what it was like in an easy and concise manner:
The compositor  (one who sets the type for printing)  took one letter  (or character)  at a time from the cases in which the type was stored to create the words & sentences on a composing stick.  When a paragraph was completed,  he transferred it to a wooden tray called a galley.  The type would then be slid onto a flat,  marble stone and secured the type in an iron frame called a chase.  The prepared type would then be carefully carried to the printing press.  If he accidentally dropped the chase,  many hours of work would be lost.
One of the printers being used to recreate authentic replications of 
Gill's Boston edition of the Declaration of Independence.

(Picture courtesy of the Printing Office of Edes and Gill)
A worker called the beater would then rub two leather-covered balls with ink made of linseed oil,  pine resin,  and soot.  The puller would then give a good, strong smooth yank on the bar of the press to force the paper onto the inked type below. 
Working together,  the beater and the puller could print 
200 sheets in an hour.

(Picture courtesy of the Printing Office of Edes and Gill)
It was painstakingly setting the type that took the longest for the printer.
I can only imagine what the colonial printer would think of our printing process today.
I was so impressed that copies of the Declaration were bring 
printed individually on a period printing press, 
that I naturally purchased a copy for myself.
(Above picture courtesy of the Printing Office of Edes and Gill)

It now hangs framed in my parlor...

...where everyone can see it!
By the way,  The History List/Printing Office of Edes and Gill has a fine video showing the printing of the Declaration on the old press just as would have been done in July of 1776.
To see it,  please click HERE.

And finally,  let's talk a little about Timothy Matlack,  of Pennsylvania,  for there is a consensus that it was  “probably”  he,  an appointed clerk to the secretary of the Second Continental Congress,  who hand wrote the most famous signed copy of the Declaration of Independence on parchment paper later in July to be signed by members of Congress.  Incidentally,  Matlack also wrote George Washington’s 1775 commission.
John Matlack’s document is usually referred to as the  “engrossed”  copy.  If you’ve never heard the term,  it is commonly used to describe official,  often legal,  documents such as deeds and commissions.  More specifically,  it denotes a document written in a clear,  formal hand,  meant to be the authoritative copy.  And authoritative the engrossed Declaration is.
This is the handwritten version we see most frequently,  with the signatures of the 56  "treasonous"  men across the bottom. 
The John Matlack  "engrossed"  copy,  hand-written and signed -
the most famous version of the Declaration of Independence. 

One of the very cool things we,  as living historians,  get to do is read the Declaration of Independence as if it were recently hand-delivered via a courier...all the while wearing our period clothing in doing so:
I,  along with a couple other Patriots,  had the privilege of reading 
the Declaration at a reenactment in Fort Wayne,  Indiana.
It was an honor. 
I annually try to post something to do with the anniversary of the birth of our nation either on or around July 4th,  for it is such an important and great holiday for all Americans. patriotic pride is showing...but I have always been patriotic - even as a young child.  Now as an adult I research and study deep and intense the life and times of our founding generation.  Oh,  I do find discrepancies here and there,  and it's then I will attempt to look at the whole picture rather than what the current trend may be  (I try not to use modern politics or thought in making my decisions).
Time to settle down and read about this Independence thing...
(My own little vignette I set up at my desk)
Anyhow,  I hope you enjoyed today's post,  and if maybe you learned something new,  as I did while researching it,  then all the better.

Until next time,  see you in time.

Other related postings of mine you might like:
With Liberty & Justice For All
Paul Revere
Life in Colonial Times
Boston Massacre
Battle of Lexington & Concord
Declaring Independence
Turn: The Original Culper Spy Ring

Some of the sources for this posting came from a few respected internet links,  including George Washington's Mount VernonWorld Digital Library,  and The History List.   Also,  I gleaned other bits from a variety of books on my shelf,  including the Colonial Williamsburg pamphlet  "The Apprentice."
The source for the type of typeface used in printing the Declaration came from HERE

And,  for one of the best filmed versions of the founding of our nation ever made,  please click HERE

~   ~   ~

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Who is john Matlack, that you mention right after Timothy Matlack?