- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009


In the summer of 1776, the date when independence was publicly declared depended on where you lived. Back in the days when news traveled at the speed of the message rider and sailboat, people learned about the birth of the new nation over a series of days, weeks or months.

The Declaration of Independence took several weeks from its passage to evolve into the version on display in the National Archives. Independence was debated starting July 1 and voted on July 4. That night, copies were printed by John Dunlap, known as the “Dunlap Broadsides,” for distribution throughout the states. Yet Congress did not order the document officially inscribed until July 19, and the official version was signed by most of the members of Congress on Aug. 2.

The text of the Declaration first appeared in the July 6 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post, and at noon on July 8, it was read publicly, receiving “general applause and heartfelt satisfaction,” according to the Constitutional Gazette. That evening, the royal coat of arms was removed from the Statehouse in Philadelphia and “burned amidst the acclamations of a crowd of spectators.” That same day, the document was read in Trenton, N.J., and in Easton, Pa., where the people “gave their heart assent with three loud huzzahs and cried out, ‘May God long preserve and unite the Free and Independent States of America,’ ” according to the Pennsylvania Evening Post.

By July 9, the Declaration was in general circulation. The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported that it was read in Princeton at the “grandly illuminated” Nassau Hall, “under a triple volley of musketry and a universal acclamation for the prosperity of the United States.” The paper further noted that the ceremony “was conducted with the greatest decorum.” The Declaration also was read in New York, which had abstained from voting on the measure on July 4 but by July 9 officially joined the United States. Later that day in New York City, the statue of King George III on Bowling Green was pulled down to be cast into bullets “to assimilate with the brains of our infatuated adversaries who, to gain a pepper corn, have lost an empire,” the Pennsylvania Journal reported.

Gen. George Washington’s orders for July 9 instructed that the Declaration “be read with an audible voice” to his army at 6 p.m., and he hoped “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.” The readings were “received everywhere with loud huzzas, and the utmost demonstrations of joy.”

Nine days later, independence was proclaimed at the statehouses in Albany and Boston. The document was read to the Rhode Island General Assembly, after which 13 cannons were fired at Fort Liberty and 13 volleys fired by a brigade of Rhode Island militia. On July 25, the Declaration was read in Williamsburg and on Aug. 5 in Richmond. The Declaration did not reach Georgia until Aug. 8, and two days later, President of the Council of Safety Archibald Bulloch read the document to the people of Savannah. By then, it had crossed the Atlantic, and it began to appear in the British press. For example, the Edinburgh Advertiser reprinted the text without editorial comment on Aug. 16, 1776.

The first Independence Day rolled unevenly across the country, prompting spontaneous celebrations and demonstrations. Today, of course, legislation is available for viewing throughout the process. But these days, one can hardly imagine a public declaration of the massive bills that govern our lives. Even Congress and the president can’t be bothered to read them.

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