Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Journey of the Declaration / Part # 2

Journey of the Declaration / Part # 2
The National Archives / Washington D.C.

Declaration of Independence
(Printed Broadside / John Dunlap)
Following the vote of the Second Continental Congress in favor of Independence from Great Britain on July 4th, 1776, Congress commissioned a local printer named John Dunlap to transfer Jefferson's script into type.  They ordered Dunlap to print 200 copies of the document to send the official word along the east coast to all major ports of the 13 Colonies.  Two of the copies were sent to British officials in America who forwarded them to Parliament in London, where they still remain within the Public Record Office archives to this very day.  This was the first printing of the document and today the Dunlap Broadsides are viewed as an extremely valuable artifact.  Of the original 200 copies printed, only 25 are known to exist.  Most copies are preserved in the collections of institutions, including the New York Public Library,  Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. Only one copy of the Dunlap Broadside is privately owned.  

Declaration of Independence
(Copy of Scribed Parchment / Timothy Matlack)
The only privately owned Dunlap Broadside was discovered accidentally in 1989 by an artist searching for cheap frames for his artwork at a flea market outside Philadelphia.  He was hoping to find old wooden frames that he could recondition and reuse for his paintings.  He purchased a faded picture contained within a simple wooden frame for four dollars.  When he got it home he began to remove the picture and the frame fell apart, suggesting a poor investment of four dollars.  However, a folded sheet of paper slid out from under the faded canvas, revealing an old printed copy of the Declaration of Independence.  The artist thought it might be an antique because the paper was old and eventually had it authenticated by experts who officially determined it was an original and dubbed it the 25th Dunlap Broadside.  It went up for auction a decade later in 2000 at Sotheby's in New York City, where it broke a record as the highest selling item ever purchased in an online auction.  I was purchased for 8.14 million dollars by a pair of investors, one of which was television producer Norman Leer.

 Commander-in-Chief/  General William Howe
(Mezzotint Credit / John Morris/  November 1777)
The Dunlap Broadside may have been concealed within the painting to hide it from the British when they occupied the city of Philadelphia during the American Revolution in 1777-1778.  General William Howe's march to the city, following his victory at the Battle of Brandywine, caused the Continental Congress to flee to the west to avoid capture, trial, and execution.  Private citizens stayed put, not willing to forfeit their property and possessions.  However, it could be considered treasonous to possess a copy of the Declaration, which may have prompted the owner to hide it.  This may also explain why so few copies of the Dunlap Broadside survived, as the British Army occupied several additional key coastal cities during the war, including Boston, New York, and Charleston.  Owners may have disposed of the document to avoid arrest.  I always think of the flea market vender who sold the picture for four bucks!  Hopefully he never knew about the treasure he lost to an unsuspecting artist for a few dollars.  One man's trash is another man's treasure, indeed!

Tyler on Top of the World
(United States Navy Memorial / National Archives)
A few weeks after the Dunlap Broadside announced the Second Continental Congress' decision supporting American Independence to the world, Jefferson's immortal words of the document were put into final cursive draft by the court scribe Timothy Matlack.  As clerk to the Secretary of the Continental Congress, Matlack was chosen to engross the words to parchment on July 20, 1776, which must have been a frustrating job.   One single mistake and you would have to start all over again... no animal skin parchment "white-out" was available.  I often wonder if he got it perfect on the first try?  He was well known for putting documents into final form, as well as being a surveyor, merchant, and future delegate to the Continental Congress for Pennsylvania in 1780.  The Matlack Engrossing is considered the one true original copy of the Declaration of Independence and today rests within in the rotunda of the National Archives in Washington D.C.  How many visitors mistake the handwriting of the Declaration as Thomas Jefferson's own hand?

The National Archives / Washington D.C.
The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place on July 8, 1776 just outside Independence Hall, which at the time was known as the Pennsylvania State House.  Other public readings that day took place in Trenton, New Jersey and Easton, Pennsylvania.  President John Hancock sent a copy of the Dunlap Broadside to General George Washington in New York with instructions to have it publicly read to his soldiers.  The document was made further public as it was printed in various newspapers, including those in Great Britain and across Europe.  The British published several rebuttal responses of their own in the form of pamphlets and newspaper publications to challenge America's list of grievances but to no avail.  War it would be.

 The Declaration of Independence
(Printed Broadside / Mary Katherine Goddard)
In January of 1777, the Continental Congress deemed that the Declaration of Independence should me mass published and made available to the general public.  Mary Katherine Goddard was the first to print a type-set copy of the document with all the signatures included at the bottom.  In addition to being the official Postmaster of the seaport city of Baltimore, she owned a book store and published an almanac.  She offered the use of her printing press for the task and helped bring the Declaration into the American mainstream.  Even more rare, only nine copies of the Goddard Broadside are known to still exist.
The Rotunda Viewing Area
The engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence moved with the Continental Congress throughout the war and later found a home within the new national capital of Federal City within the District of Columbia.  The document was moved to Virginia during the War of 1812 to protect it from the invading British, who later attacked and burned much of the nation's capital to the ground, including the President's Mansion.  The responsibility of the Declaration safe keeping was later assigned to the Secretary of State.  In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wanted the fading engrossed parchment copy preserved for the future.  He employed the services of printer William Stone to create a wet plate image transfer using a chemical process to burn Matlack's script of the original document onto a copper plate to be used for future printings.   The process was completed in 1823 and probably caused additional damage to the original document.  However, the accuracy of the script was saved from decay and all modern copies are taken from Stone's copper plate, including the one actor Nicholas Cage tried to steal from the gift shop at the National Archives in the historically entertaining Disney created movie, National Treasure.   

National Treasures on Display
In 1840 the Declaration was put on public display at the United States Patent Office in Washington D.C., formally known as Federal City.  It remained on display for the next 35 years and was not properly cared for, causing extensive damage from moisture, light, and humidity.  In 1876 it was loaned to Independence Hall for the 100th celebration of the Nation's birthday where it remained for a full year.  By this point, the Declaration was in such poor condition, all future planned public displays were cancelled indefinitely.  In 1921 document rights to the Declaration of Independence were transferred from the care of the State Department to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. where restoration efforts slowed decay.  Soon the document was open to public display once again.  During World War II it was relocated west to Fort Knox in Kentucky for safe keeping, just in case the nation's capital became a war-time target once again.  

Declaration of Independence
(Copper Plate Transfer / William Stone)
Finally, in 1952, the National Archives won the right to store and care for the document permanently, using the latest technology available at the time.  Today the Declaration resides in protective argon gas filled cases made from titanium and aluminum.  It was put on public display once again, along with the four page United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights within the rotunda of the building.  Years ago I was able to attend a private showing with one the curators of the archives.  I was hoping to pry some secrets from him to see if the documents were really lowered into underground vaults with magnetic locks, as were rumored in stories and suggested as fact in the movie National Treasure.  You could tell the curator had been down this road before but he wasn't showing his cards.  The best security system is the one that remains a mystery.  The rotunda was like standing in an solar eclipse, as light is very damaging to documents.  The high-tech lighting system was a specific candle wattage and not directly facing downward.  Everything was scientifically monitored in efforts to slow the aging process as much as possible.  We were also able to see Stone's Copper Plate, which will be used to make additional copies on parchment in 2026 for the 250th birthday of the Declaration.  The limited printings will be sold or gifted to private collections and museums.  

 The Declaration of Independence
(Matlack Script / The National Archives)
The private showing was a plus because we were able to fast track through security.  It was held in the early morning before the museum opened.  Already people were lining up outside to get in but we were whisked through a side entrance for staff only.  The Constitution and Bill of Rights were still in very good shape and completely legible.  However, I was taken aback by the poor condition of the Declaration of Independence.  I knew it had faded but never anticipated how much.  It was barely legible and the signatures, including John Hancock, had all but faded into obscurity within the parchment.  The parchment itself appeared to be two pieces sewn together, set apart by different shades of color.  Additional display cases on the sides of the Rotunda contain revolving content so you can see new treasures with each visit.  We were able to see Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Magna Carta on loan from England.  An amazing experience to say the least!  Look closely at my picture of the Declaration of Independence above and see if you can find a visible mystery contained within the document.  I will reveal the answer in the next paragraph...

Jefferson Medallion / 1804
(Painting Credit / Gilbert Stuart)
Please Note / I used many sources to check my facts and figures when writing this blog, including, the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the United States National Park Service, among others.  Much thanks to these sources!  The mystery I mentioned above contained within the Declaration of Independence itself is the image of a small hand-print in the lower left hand corner of the document.  Did you see it?  No one knows where the child-size hand-print came from or when it actually first appeared.  Efforts to remove the print have been unsuccessful as it has become engrained within the parchment itself.  It is a ghostly addition and adds an aura of mystery to the legacy of the document's long history.  A trip to the National Archives should be a pilgrimage every American should take once to pay homage to the words that started a nation and brought freedom to countries the world over.   We hold these truths to be self evident....

Seal of Washington D.C.

1 comment:

  1. Your wrote, with regard to the parchment engrossed by Matlick:
    ... One single mistake and you would have to start all over again... no animal skin parchment "white-out" was available. I often wonder if he got it perfect on the first try?

    In fact, he did make at least one mistake. The phrase about "he has dissolved Representative Houses" clearly has an error.

    You might also mention that his style - capitalizing all nouns and no adjectives (resulting in "the united States" - is the result of the influence of the Hanoverian Kings, with their German background (German being the primary language of George III and his immediate family), on "the kinig's English" as would be written by a trained scribe in colonial America.


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