One of the main questions I get while on the road is “If this is the Declaration of Independence, where are all the signatures?”
Well, the short answer is: This copy doesn’t have any.
The longer answer is:
Contrary to popular belief, the Declaration of Independence was not signed on July 4th, 1776 – that’s the day it was sent to the printer. As soon as Thomas Jefferson was finished drafting the language, he entrusted his manuscript to a local printer named John Dunlap, who quickly printed an estimated 200 copies (or “Broadsides”) of the Declaration of Independence. These “Dunlap Broadsides” were not signed because they were considered newspapers or announcements – not legal documents. Horseback riders carried the copies out to the thirteen colonies to be read aloud to the citizens and the soldiers.
George Washington had his copy dictated to the troops in New York City. Angered by the long list of British injustices and abuses, the soldiers toppled a statue of King George and melted it down into bullets to be used in the Revolutionary War!
Over the course of the next month, Dunlap Broadsides circulated throughout the thirteen colonies, spreading the message (paraphrasing, of course): England has gone too far, we have declared our independence, get ready to fight.
It wasn’t until August 2nd, 1776 that the Continental Congress got together and drafted the ceremonial, handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence. The members of Congress who were present signed the document. The rest of the 56 signatures were collected over the next few years. The hand-written copy now permanently resides in the National Archives in Washington D.C.
Of the original 200 Dunlap Broadsides, only 26 are known to exist today. Our print may not be signed, but it is the only copy touring the nation – completing the epic journey that those horseback riders started over two-hundred-thirty-three years ago!