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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” [DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE].
Broadside in four columns. [No publisher’s legend, but Salem: Ezekiel Russell (or John Rogers at Russell’s printing office), ca. July 13-15, 1776]. Sheet size 13¾ x 16¾”, untrimmed.
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All July 1776 broadside printings of the Declaration are rare and valuable, but this example is exceptionally so. It is the earliest known publication of the Declaration in Massachusetts—the birthplace of the American Revolution—and its unique, four-column format makes it one of the rarest and most interesting of the printings. Including this example, only six copies of this broadside are known, four of which are already in institutional collections.
The First News of Independence
On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress in Philadelphia took a bold and decisive step: They declared the United States to be “Free and Independent” from Great Britain, and pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to uphold that principle. The approved manuscript of the Declaration was then signed by only two men, Continental Congress president John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson (often spelled “Thompson”), and taken to the office of printer John Dunlap. The Congressional committee responsible for writing the Declaration was ordered to supervise its publication.
On the morning of July 5, Dunlap delivered the freshly printed copies to Congress. Over the next few days, John Hancock sent the official broadside to the colonial governments and to General George Washington and other military commanders. Meanwhile, on July 6, the Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper to print the text. The Signers sent Declaration copies to their family, friends and associates, as did private individuals and members of the press.
Breaking the News in Massachusetts
During the next few weeks, printers throughout the United States worked feverishly to republish the founding document. Including Dunlap, 12 printers are known to have created Declaration broadsides in July and August of 1776. From those 12 printers, 18 or 19 total variant printings are known (including this Salem broadside).
Ezekiel Russell, or John Rogers working at Russell’s printing office, published the Declaration on this broadside and also in the July 16 issue of the American Gazette. A close examination reveals that the broadside came first, and the same setting of type was re-used for the newspaper. The broadside can almost certainly be dated to sometime between July 13 and 15. Elsewhere in Massachusetts, newspaper printings were put out in Worcester, Boston, and Watertown, on July 17, 18, and 22, respectively.
Staying True to Jefferson’s Original
With this broadside, Russell even scooped the Dunlap official version in Massachusetts. His text is based on the July 6 printing in the Pennsylvania Evening Post. The Post appears to have got hold of a copy of the Declaration manuscript at the same time Dunlap did. The Post’s text—and thus Russell’s—is closer in style to Thomas Jefferson’s original than is the official (Dunlap) broadside. Jefferson had a distinctive habit of lower-casing words that most people would have capitalized. That style is followed much more faithfully in the Post and in this broadside. (The Dunlap version was based on the authenticated copy which, stylistic evidence suggests, was either in the hand of, or edited at Dunlap’s press by, John Adams.)
Where Are the Signers?
The version of the Declaration that most people today think of as the original is the engrossed copy, now in the National Archives, with the signatures of the Founding Fathers filling the bottom portion of the document. But the July 1776 printings came first, capturing the official version of the Declaration as it was passed in Congress on July 4, with the assent of 12 states.
New York, the only holdout, joined the vote for independence on July 9. With that coveted unanimity, Congress resolved, on July 19, to have the Declaration formally engrossed and signed by every member. They also changed its title from “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled” to “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.”
On August 2, 1776, the engrossed Declaration was finally signed. The public, however, did not see the full list of men who had risked their lives by doing so until Congress republished the Declaration as a broadside in January of 1777.
Reaction to the Declaration
As news of the Declaration swept throughout the former colonies and public readings of the document were held, Americans celebrated with “huzzahs,” 13-gun salutes, toasts, parades, and sometimes boisterous mobs that tore down and burned local symbols of British authority. The most famous example took place in New York City: After Washington’s copy of the Dunlap broadside was read before the American Army on July 9, a mob toppled the lead statue of George III in Bowling Green. The king and his horse were then unceremoniously transported to Connecticut and cast into 42,088 musketballs for the American cause.
About the Printer
Boston-born printer Ezekiel Russell (1744-1796) met with at best mediocre success in life, moving from Boston to Portsmouth, N.H. (1765), back to Boston, then to Newport and Providence (1767), Boston again, then on to Salem (1774), then Danvers (1781) and finally back to Boston. He is best known for his printings of the Declaration of Independence and his print on the Battles of Lexington and Concord, “A Bloody Butchery, by the British Troops: or, the Runaway Fight of the Regulars.”
In Boston, Russell and his wife had published a short-lived paper called The Censor that “was in the interest of the loyal party.” The paper was designed to “counteract the influence of the Boston Gazette, and such writers as the Adamses and Quincys, and the Spy, with its staff of contributors equally bold and resolute.” Despite the Censor’s editorial slant, says historian J. L. Bell, “the Russells don’t seem to have been committed Loyalists. They apparently took the Censor job because they needed money.”
Russell’s American Gazette was one of his most short-lived ventures, begun in June of 1776 and lasting for just a few issues. The newspaper’s masthead read “Printed by J. Rogers at E. Russell’s Printing-Office,” but it is doubtful that Rogers was the real publisher of either the newspaper or the Declaration broadside. The Gazette, wrote historian Gilbert L. Streeter, “was nominally published by John Rogers, at Mr. Russell’s office; but as Rogers was merely Russell’s journeyman, the owner of neither press nor types, the latter was doubtless the true proprietor.” Printer Isaiah Thomas, in his 1810 History of Printing in America, claimed that “Russell was the conductor of this paper, Rogers being only the agent.” Salem historian Joseph B. Felt elaborated, contending that Russell employed Rogers as his agent “in the unsuccessful effort to gain public patronage,” a theory that may have bearing on how Russell got the job to print the official Massachusetts broadside. The partnership, however, did not last long.
Following the demise of the Gazette, Russell set up shop in Danvers and then Boston, where he and his wife published popular ballads and small pamphlets. He died in 1796, twenty years after the event—and the publication—that earned his name a lasting place in history.
Detective Work: Q&A
How do we know Russell used the same typesetting for the American Gazette?
Russell’s re-use of the broadside typesetting to print the Declaration in the July 16 issue of the American Gazette is evident from a comparison of the lines of text, locations of hyphens at the ends of lines, and locations of damaged examples of type, among other anomalies.
Which came first?
A close look at the American Gazette Declaration text shows that a spacing error has been corrected and the type set more tightly (evidently in order to make room for the day’s news), indicating that Russell’s broadside preceded his July 16 newspaper printing.
When was the broadside produced?
It’s not certain when Russell first received the Declaration text, but reception in Salem was likely close to that in Boston. Correspondence in 1776 between John and Abigail Adams shows that a letter sent by post from Philadelphia to Boston might take as few as seven days to arrive, or as much as two weeks. (It wasn’t until later that year that the number and frequency of post riders was increased in an effort to relay critical military intelligence more rapidly.) John Adams sent Abigail a copy of the Pennsylvania Evening Post (presumably the July 6 Declaration issue), by express, on July 7. She had evidently received it, or had access to another copy of the Declaration, by July 13-14, when she wrote John that “I cannot but feel sorry that some of the most Manly Sentiments in the Declaration are Expunged from the printed coppy.” It stands to reason that a copy of the Post sent express to Salem on the day it was published, could also have made it to Russell’s office by July 13.
Taking into account the time needed for Russell to typeset and print the broadside, and then to adjust the typesetting for his July 16 newspaper publication, this document can be dated to some time between July 13 and 15. (Early morning of July 16 is possible, but given the time constraints, unlikely.)
Russell’s broadside and newspaper printings easily beat out the official state publication. It wasn’t until July 16 that the Dunlap broadside sent by Hancock arrived in Watertown, where the Massachusetts government had relocated because of a smallpox epidemic. Officials then contracted with Russell to publish an official Massachusetts version. That printing, which follows the capitalization and 1-column format of the Dunlap, was produced by Russell in late July (or possibly, but less likely, in the first few days of August). It was then sent to each of the nearly 200 townships to be read by the ministers to their congregations and then entered in the official town record. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband that her Boston church received the reading on August 11.
How did Russell manage to scoop his fellow Massachusetts printers?
Probably through a combination of good planning and sheer luck. Russell was well situated: Salem had its own post office, and was positioned along a regular post rider’s route from Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as one stretching along the coast from Falmouth north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. And if Russell, like most printers, subscribed to a selection of major papers, he may even have made arrangements with the publishers to receive “breaking news” by express.
What happened to the original July 4, 1776 Declaration manuscript?
The travels of the engrossed manuscript (signed on August 2) are well known. Despite exhaustive research by historians, the same cannot be said regarding the final manuscript that was actually voted on and approved on July 4. One or more members of the Congressional committee of five tasked with overseeing its publication probably took the approved text, signed only by John Hancock and Charles Thomson, directly to Dunlap’s printing shop. It has long been assumed that the manuscript that went to Dunlap was penned by Thomas Jefferson. But a fresh comparison of the style of working drafts of the Declaration in Jefferson’s hand and a June 1776 copy of the rough draft in the hand of fellow committee member John Adams, lead to a surprising new conclusion: The manuscript approved by Congress was either prepared by Adams or, if penned by Jefferson, “corrected” by Adams at Dunlap’s shop. The version published by the Post, and used to prepare this broadside, appears to have been based on a second July 4 manuscript, in Jefferson’s hand. The fate of both the official manuscript and the copy used by the Post remains a mystery to this day.
Goodspeed’s Book Shop; from Sotheby Parke Bernet Auction (Philip D. Sang Collection), April 26, 1978, lot 82; from Parke Bernet Auction (S.G. Lorris Collection), October 27, 1964, lot 67.
Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society,
Dube, Anne Marie. “A Multitude of Amendments, Alterations and Additions,” Independence
National Historical Park, NPS, May 1996; updated Jan. 17, 2003,
Felt, Joseph B. Annals of Salem, Vol. 2 (W. & S.B. Ives, 1849)
Force, Peter, editor. American Archives (U.S. Congress, 1848), Vol. 1.
Goff, Frederick R. The John Dunlap Broadside: The First Printing of the Declaration of
Independence (Washington, 1976)
Hudson, Frederic. Journalism in the United States, from 1690 to 1872 (Harper & Brothers, 1873)
Paisley, Jeffrey. The Tyranny of Printers, Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic
(University of Virginia Press, 2003)
Streeter, Gilbert L. An Account of the Newspapers and other Periodicals Published in Salem
from 1768 to 1856 (W. Ives and G.W. Pease, 1856)
Thomas, Isaiah. The History of Printing in America (1810)
Wall, A.J. “The Statues of King George III and the Honorable William Pitt Erected in New York
City 1770,” The New-York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin, Vol. IV, No. 2, July 1920, pp.36+
The Warren-Adams Letters, Vol. I, 1743-1777 (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917)
A broadside is a single-page, printed document created to disseminate news by being read, shared, and posted.
Houghton Library at Harvard University, Phillips Library at Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts Historical Society, and Lauinger Library at Georgetown University.
See Dube, Appendix C, for a listing of the earliest newspaper printings of the Declaration.
A final, fair copy, written in a large, clear hand.
Adams Family Papers. Mail could be sent by several different means, both official and private: by post rider (traveling between specified towns on a set schedule), by express (riders delivering off route or off schedule), by private individual, by stage, or by ship. Speed of delivery was often inconsistent, subject to the schedule and efficiency of the carrier, as well as the vagaries of weather and road conditions.
James Warren also wrote to John Adams from Boston on July 17 that “The Declaration came on Saturday [July 13], and diffused a general Joy.” (Warren-Adams Letters, I:261) The first Boston newspaper printings didn’t appear until July 18, probably because the city was in the midst of a smallpox epidemic.
JA to AA, 7 July 1776 (1st letter of that date) and AA to JA, 13-14 July 1776, Adams Family Papers
“To print a newspaper, each side of each sheet of each copy had to be pressed by hand, a complex task that involved (among many other procedures) wetting the paper, “beating” the type with ink-soaked balls, and repeatedly pulling the heavy crank that lowered the platen and made the impression. Two experienced workers lifting, beating and pulling in rhythm . . . could print 240 sheets . . . an hour at their best. Later, the job would have to be done over again for the other side of the sheets, and still later each sheet would have to be folded into newspaper form. . . . even a rural weekly, with barely adequate circulation of only 500 or 600, required a day and most of a night of unremitting labor to produce.” (Paisley, 25)
AA to JA, 14 August 1776, Adams Family Papers
A year earlier, the Massachusetts Spy had announced a post rider, who would deliver the news from Worcester to Cambridge, Salem, and Watertown on a weekly basis (Massachusetts Spy, June 7, 1775, p.1).
“Resolve for Paying Joseph Bernard, Post-Rider, passed June 29, 1776,” Force I:302.
The publishers of the Essex Journal, for example, promised to include “the most material pieces contained in the Portsmouth, Salem, Boston, Connecticut, Rhode-Island, New York, Philadelphia, Maryland, South Carolina, and Quebec news-papers, which we are now regularly supplied with….” They had “established a Rider” to deliver to their subscribers, and had “a Carriage constantly plying between Newburyport and Boston” (Essex Journal, January 25, 1775, p.4). The publisher of the proposed Pennsylvania Ledger, which was intended to serve Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, promised to send issues “the first opportunity to distant subscribers,” and listed post riders from Pennsylvania and Maryland who would take subscription requests (Pennsylvania Packet, January 16, 1775, p.1).
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.
Per Goff: “We have no reliable reporter to tell us how the committee of five carried out their commission. Presumably one or more of the committee members took the authenticated copy signed by John Hancock, quite likely a fair copy of the text in Jefferson’s hand, to the printing shop.” See also Dube, chapter 1.