The history of the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence
coincides with the trails of our country. The survival of this
original Charter of Freedom document is a fascinating story. The
possible destruction of this document was avoided during the War
of 1812. However, damage to the document did occur through a long
history of improper handling and preservation techniques.
Early in the Revolutionary War, the British Army moved to occupy Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Congress transporting its papers fled to Baltimore, Maryland. In 1777, Congress again fled to Lancaster and then to York, Pennsylvania. The Declaration returned back to Philadelphia in the spring of 1778.
The document remained in the State House in Philadelphia until July 1783. When Congress moved the Declaration did also to Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey, Annapolis, Maryland and in June of 1785 to New York. It was stored at the City Hall Building on Wall Street.
The Declaration was delivered to George Washington in 1789 and was placed in the custody of the then acting Secretary of State, John Jay. The new Secretary of State was Thomas Jefferson who took charge of the original document in 1790. It was moved to Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1790 and remained in Philadelphia for ten years. During most of this time the document was in a rolled up storage with very little thought given to safe guarding its future.
The Declaration was moved to the new Federal City of Washington in the autumn of 1800. The document was stored most of the time until 1814 in the War Office Building on Seventeen Street.
During the War of 1812, the Declaration was moved from the Federal City packed in a linen sack. The War Office and nest of the Federal City was burned by the British. The document stayed one night in a barn a couple of miles from Chain Bridge and was later stored in the house of a clergyman-tax collector named Little John in Leesburg, Virginia. When the Capital was safe from British invasion, the Declaration was returned to the Federal City.
In 1820, the Declaration was officially transferred from the
War Office to the Department of State. On May 28, 1823, Daniel Brent, then Chief Clerk of the Department of State, wrote to I. W. Stone ordering a facsimile printing of the Declaration.
The resulting engraved copper plate and the two hundred prints of which only seventeen remain, became the standard for all future reproductions of the Declaration of Independence. The original copper printing plate is safeguarded by the National Archives. Unfortunately, this copper plate came at a great price.
The finest engraver of his day, I. W. Stone, was ordered to print two hundred exact duplicates of the document. The technology was crude. He used the original document. Placing the document over a wet paper. Pressing the original document against this paper. Thereby fusing the water paper to the ink surfaces of the original. When the document was lifted from the paper, most of the signatures and some of the text was removed from the original. Thus, in an effort to share the engrossed image of the Declaration with the American public, damage was done to the original document that all of the travels and future exposure could not begin to equal.
In 1841, Secretary of State, Webster, had the damaged document placed in the New Patent Office Building. The document was hung on a wall in a frame with the commission of George Washington hung along side. There was a window across from this newly decorated display area. The Declaration was exposed to excessive light and faded yellow.
The document was moved back to Philadelphia in 1876 for the Centennial Celebration. The Declaration returned to Washington in 1877 and remained exhibited for seventeen more years.
In 1894, the exhibition of the document was ended. It was locked
in a safe between two plates of glass. On September 30, 1921, the document was transported to the Library of Congress. A shrine was built and the Declaration was once again displayed to the public on February 19, 1924.
On the day after Christmas in 1941, the Declaration and the Constitution were placed in a special bronze container and taken by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. During this period of safe keeping the Declaration was unmounted and inspected. Glue and other potentially toxic materials were removed and several cracks were drawn tighter.
On October 1, 1944, with World War II under control the Declaration and the Constitution were placed on display again at the Library of Congress Congress established the National Archives and on December 13, 1952 the Declaration was transported in an armed tank with great ceremony to the
new National Archives Building. On December 15, 1952, this Great Charter of Freedom document was again displayed.
Since 1776, efforts to reproduce the engrossed parchment Declaration of Independence document, have produced a number artistic reproductions. The first attempt to reproduce the signatures was done in 1818 by
Benjamin Owen Tyler. This engraving was produced by copying the signatures
In 1819, John Binns, then the publisher of the Democratic Press
in Philadelphia, printed his copy engraving of signatures. This engraving had the text of Declaration and signatures surrounded by the seals of the thirteen States. The picture of Washington, John Hancock and Jefferson were placed at the top. Currently, one of these engravings is shown on the Website: http://www.enesysweb.com/biz/art/
The I. W. Stone engraving used the original document for the first time to crest a paper tracing for engraving. This document reproduction was the most accurate to the original. However, the shrinkage of the water caused the engraving to be up to 3 or 4 percent smaller than the original document. Since all reproductions up to now have used the Stone engraving, no printed reproduction has ever been produced that is an exact size image of the original. The print now offered by Historical Document Reproduction, Inc. accomplishes this important historical first printing. A true size color photographic facsimile image of our country's first war document.
The finest effort to duplicate the Declaration of Independence as
it might have looked if no damage had occurred to it in 1823, was accomplished by Theodore William Ohman. His approach was to use the Stone print and the first black and white photograph of the Declaration taken in 1903 to reproduce or reconstruct the appearance of the document before 1823.
All Americans deserve the right to see the Declaration of Independence the way it has survived as our heritage. In this regard, the National Archives now provides a high resolution computer image of this remarkable document on their Website. By printing this special color print the publisher, James K. Mitchell, Jr., hopes to extend this right to all Americans. The protective screens are now removed.
As we reflect on the powerful words of the Declaration and marvel at the moral judgments that go to the heart of our Constitution and laws, let us reflect on the words of its principal author and writer, Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams:
"I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on steady advance. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders and hobble along by our Side...... We have seen indeed, once within the records of history, a complete eclipse of the human mind, continuing for centuries. And this, too, by swarms of the same northern barbarians, conquering and taking possession of the countries of the civilized world...But even if the clouds of barbarism and despotism should again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. The flames kindled on July 4, 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguish by the feeble engines of despotism. On the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them."
On September 2, 1945 (Tokyo Bay) the representatives of the
Empire of Japan stood on the deck of the Battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) and signed the Instrument of Surrender documents. One hundred and sixty nine years had passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson's prediction had come to pass. Indeed, the document ending mankind's greatest armed conflict again resounded with the spirit and power of the Declaration of 1776.
The Potsdam Declaration mentioned in the opening paragraph of the Instrument of Surrender document boldly states under provision (10) that the new Japanese government shall establish: "Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights of its citizens.
In his speech to the American people on September 1, 1945, President Harry S. Truman connected this historic ceremony to the great principles of our Declaration of Independence. (Victory over Japan)
"This is a victory of more than arms alone. This is a victory of liberty over tyranny."
"But back of it all were the will and spirit and determination of a free people-- who know what freedom is ,and who know that it is worth whatever price they had to pay to preserve it."
"It was the spirit of liberty which gave us our armed strength and which made our men invincible in battle. We now know that the spirit of liberty, the freedom of the individual, and the personal dignity of man, are the strongest and toughest and most enduring forces in all the world."