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The Signing of the Declaration of Independence - This Day in History - August 2, 1776

Posted on Wednesday, August 2, 2023

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On This Day in History, August 2, 1776, The Declaration of Independence was Signed in Philadelphia.

John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence" is often thought to depict the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, but no signing took place on that date. It actually depicts the presentation of the Declaration in late June of 1776.

On July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress famously approved the Declaration of Independence. A popular misconception is that the Declaration of Independence was signed on this day as well, but it is not believed that any Declaration was signed on July 4th. As soon as the Declaration of Independence was approved, local Philadelphia printer John Dunlap, the official printer of the Continental Congress, began printing up copies of a broadside of the Declaration to be distributed throughout the American Colonies. But there is no evidence of a signed copy from this early date.

Records of the Continental Congress indicate that it wasn't until July 19, 1776 that congress ordered the creation of an official copy of the Declaration of Independence. The order stipulated that the Declaration be "fairly engrossed" and that once completed "signed by every member of Congress." The order was fulfilled by Timothy Matlack, an assistant to Charles Thomson who was the nonvoting Secretary of the Continental Congress. Records indicate that by August 2nd the order had been completed and that "The declaration of Independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members."

So it was on August 2nd, 1776 that the Declaration was signed... by most of the members of the Second Continental Congress. Not everyone who signed the Declaration of Independence was present at Independence Hall on August 2, 1776, so it is believed that some signed the Declaration at a later date. Some may have even signed it much later. Another official broadside of the Declaration of Independence was printed in January of 1777 in Baltimore by Mary Katharine Goddard. This version included the names of all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and yet Thomas McKean of Delaware is missing. It is therefore believed that McKean did not sign the Declaration of Independence until after January of 1777, although it's possible he was simply omitted by mistake.

It is also interesting to note that those who approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776 are not necessarily the same people who signed the Declaration a month later. After Independence was officially declared there was a lot of turnover in congress as numerous members left to either join the fighting of the Revolution or to attend to personal affairs. Thus, new members joined congress after July 4th, 1776 were able to sign the Declaration on August 2nd, 1776. Matthew Thornton, William Williams, Benjamin Rush, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, George Ross, and Charles Carroll all signed the Declaration of Independence despite not being present on the day Independence was actually declared.



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