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The Declaration of Independence
The Official Massachusetts Broadside
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[DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE]. Broadside. “Salem, Massachusetts-Bay: Printed by E. [Ezekiel] Russell, by Order of Authority,” ca. July 20, 1776. Approximately 15¾ x 19¾ in.

Inventory #22379       PRICE ON REQUEST

On the morning of July 5th, 1776 copies of the freshly-printed broadside of the Declaration of Independence were delivered to Congress from John Dunlap’s printing office in Philadelphia. Beginning that day the Dunlap broadside was sent officially to the colonial governments, to General Washington and other military commanders, and to friends and family of the signers.

During the next few weeks, the Declaration would be re-published throughout the country in locally-printed broadsides—both official and unofficial—and newspapers. When the Declaration was read aloud it was followed by huzzahs, thirteen-gun salutes, parades, toasts, and often times, boisterous mobs that committed monarchial symbols to the bonfire. For instance, in New York after Washington’s copy of the Dunlap was read before the American Army on July 9th, a mob pulled down the lead statue of George III in Bowling Green. The king and his horse were transported to Connecticut and cast into 42,088 musket balls for the American cause.

The Declaration in some form first reached Boston on July 13th, by way of New York.[1] The news arrived at the government of Massachusetts in Watertown[2] on the 16th, during treaty negotiations with Native Americans authorized by General George Washington as a way to “prevent our Enemies from securing their friendship, and further, they will be of infinite service, in annoying and harassing them should they ever attempt to penetrate the Country....”[3]

The arrival of the Declaration brought the negotiations to a dramatic close, when James Bowdoin, the President of the Council announced that the “Colonies have lately by their Great Council at Philadelphia declared themselves free and independent States, by the Name of the United States of America. The Certain News of it and the Declaration itself are just come to us and we are glad of this opportunity to inform you, our Brothers of it.” He then produced “the printed Declaration” and proceeded to read the closing lines of the text, assuring the tribes that “these united Colonies are and of right ought to be Free and Independent States ... free ... to Contract Alliances.”[4]

On the same day, the Council “Ordered, That the Declaration of Independence be printed; and a Copy sent to the Ministers of each Parish, of every Denomination, within this State; and that they severally be required to read the same to their respective Congregations, as soon as divine Service is ended, in the Afternoon, on the first Lord’s-Day after they shall have received it:—And after such Publication thereof, to deliver the said Declaration to the Clerks of their several Towns, or Districts; who are hereby required to record the same in their respective Town, or District Books, there to remain as a perpetual Memorial thereof.”

This order, along with a Dunlap broadside, was sent from Watertown to Salem, where it was to be printed by Ezekiel Russell and then distributed throughout the state. The Council likely did not know that Russell already had printed the Declaration on his own as 4-column broadside prior to using the same setting of type in his newspaper, American Gazette, published on July 16th. After receiving the July 17th order, Russell re-set the Declaration, following the style of the official Dunlap broadside.

With slow travel back and forth, the production of the official Massachusetts broadside took some time to deliver. Proofs may have had to be sent back and forth from Watertown and Salem for approval. It wasn’t until Monday, August 5th that John Avery, Deputy Secretary of the Council of Massachusetts, wrote to Sheriff Greenleaf[5] saying, “I am directed by the honorable Committee of Council to acquaint you that the printed Declarations of Independency are on their table, and they expect that you will take proper care that they are distributed through the State as soon as may be, that every town may have them publicly read in each religious assembly.”[6] The Declaration was then read in churches, on Sunday, August 11th.[7]

The title, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America,” reflects the fact that the Declaration was not yet unanimous when it passed on July 4th; New York’s delegates had been ordered to abstain. It wasn’t until July 19, soon after word reached Philadelphia that New York had adopted the Declaration, that Congress ordered the engrossed (handwritten) copy on vellum with a new heading changed to “The unanimous Declaration.” The engrossed manuscript was signed on August 2nd, well after this official Massachusetts broadside had been sent to the printer.

Provenance

Docketed on verso, “Rev’d Mr. Gay. Hingham.” 

Sotheby’s, December 12, 2004, lot 270, the Collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair.


[1] James Warren wrote to John Adams from Boston on July 17th that “The Declaration came on Saturday [July 13], and diffused a general Joy.” The Warren-Adams Letters, vol. 1, 1743-1777

[2] The Massachusetts Provincial Congress had moved to Watertown during the British occupation of Boston, but after the British evacuated Boston at the end of March, 1776, it wasn’t safe to move back due to an outbreak of small pox.

[3] http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mgw:@field(DOCID+@lit(gw050206))   

[4] Baxter, Documentary History of the State of Maine. The treaty was signed the next day, and the preamble, which also quotes from the end of the Declaration, states that it was being signed by the “Governors” (Council) of the State of Massachusetts Bay, “in behalf of said State, and the other United States of America.” Though little-known today, this document, signed in Watertown on July 17, 1776, is the first treaty entered into by the United States of America.

[5] Presumably the same Sheriff [William] Greenleaf who on July 18th had read the Declaration aloud to the Council and the public, gathered outside the Town House (now called the “Old State House”) in Boston.

[6] Quoted in I. Mimis Hays, pages 75-76

[7] Broadsides, Ballads, Etc. Printed in Massachusetts, 1639-1800


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