Declaration of Independence: History, Meaning, Continental Congress, and Facts

The Declaration served its purpose but the principles that it was based upon was as natural as the ones propounded by George Mason or John Locke. Besides, it will seem rather strange for subsequent American generations to incorporate the words of an indictment document (against a British monarch that once usurp the rights of colonies) into every political discourse. Regardless of this, the Declaration still influenced other countries to take make similar revolutions against oppressive monarchs and government.

The Declaration’s influence on other Countries and their fight for Independence

It is likely that had the Americans not revolted against Britain, the French would not (or might have not) happened in 1789. Less than five years after the American Revolution, a mighty French monarchy crumbled. Theirs was swift and way more brutal and uncivilized than their American counterparts. However, the same principles that drove the Declaration of Independence are the same ones that underpinned the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789.

Along with the French Revolution, the American Declaration of 1776 caused a lot of ripples in the political fabric of several countries. Examples of such major social and political upheavals were:

  • The Manifesto of the Province of Flanders in 1790
  • The Venezuelan Declaration of Independence in 1811
  • The Liberian Declaration of Independence in 1847
  • The Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence in 1945
  • The Haitian Revolution of 1804
  • The Argentine Declaration of Independence in 1816
  • Chilean Declaration of Independence in 1818
  • The Decembrist Revolt against the Russian Empire in 1825

The Independence Declaration also fueled people revolt and uprising in countries such as El Salvador (1821), Guatemala (1821), Honduras (1821), Mexico (1821) Uruguay 1825, Nicaragua (1821), Bolivia (1825), Ecuador (1830), Colombia (1831), Paraguay (1842), Dominican Republic (1844), Costa Rica (1821) and Hungry (1849). All of these countries shared had one thing in common: they sought to bring down centuries of imperial and monarchical regimes in their societies.

Reproduction of the Declaration document over the years

The first 200 official copies that were made found their way to army troops and assembly halls all across the 13 states.

Congress later made an engrossed copy that was signed by all 56 delegates. It is believed that Timothy Matlack was the person who hand wrote the document. This slightly different version is what we see in circulation today.

The engrossed copy is an invaluable asset for the United States. It is often well preserved and well-guarded. Today, it can be found at the Library of Congress. However, up until 1921, the engrossed copy of Declaration was housed in the State Department. Considering how priceless and valuable the copy is, the engrossed copy has been safely transferred to the United States Bullion Depository in times of war or other chaotic conditions. The most recent case of this occurred after the Pearl Harbor attack. The copy remained in the depository all throughout World War II.

In 1952, the engrossed copy found a new home however. Congress decided to put it on continuous display at the National Archives. Specifically, it can be found at the “Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom”.

Original Copies and Versions of the Declarations in the 21st century

Up to this day, there exist about 26 copies of the John Dunlap’s broadside copies. One of them can be found at The National Archives in England.

Also, there exist 9 copies of the Goddard broadside that Congress printed in 1777. The Goddard broadside was printed by Mary Katherine Goddard, hence its name. This version lists the signers of the Declaration.

As recent as April 21, 2017, an engrossed copy of the Declaration was found in the archives of West Sussex County Council in England. In this version, the signers were not categorized into states. Historians are still scratching their heads as to how this engrossed copy came across the Atlantic into England. And why did it take this long a time for it to be discovered?

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