5 things you might not know about... the US Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence

BBC History Magazine - - History Now / News -

Fol­low­ing the re­cent dis­cov­ery of a rare copy of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence in West Sus­sex, we bring you five facts about the fa­mous 18th-cen­tury doc­u­ment

1 It wasn’t ac­tu­ally signed on 4 July 1776

4 July is tra­di­tion­ally cel­e­brated as the day on which the US de­clared its in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain. Yet the dec­la­ra­tion had ac­tu­ally been signed two days ear­lier. The fi­nal word­ing of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was ap­proved on 4 July, how­ever, which was also the date on which it was printed and cir­cu­lated through­out the new na­tion.

2 News of the dec­la­ra­tion started a riot

When news of the dec­la­ra­tion reached New York and the doc­u­ment was read aloud by Ge­orge Washington, a ju­bi­lant crowd tore down a statue of Bri­tish king Ge­orge III. The statue was later melted down and used to cre­ate more than 42,000 mus­ket balls.

3 The sig­na­tures were kept se­cret

The names of the men who signed the dec­la­ra­tion weren’t re­leased un­til Jan­uary 1777, to pro­tect them from charges of trea­son.

4 The dec­la­ra­tion and con­sti­tu­tion were hid­den dur­ing the Sec­ond World War

Shortly af­ter the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor in 1941, the two doc­u­ments were taken to Fort Knox (ac­com­pa­nied by a mil­i­tary es­cort), where they re­mained un­der lock and key for sev­eral years.

5 Few copies from the first print run sur­vive

Af­ter its ap­proval the dec­la­ra­tion was sent to printer John Dun­lap, who pro­duced 200 copies known to­day as the Dun­lap Broad­sides. A mere 26 copies are known to sur­vive.

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