5 Neat Facts About The Declaration of Independence

The original Declaration of Independence

To help you celebrate the Fourth of July a few years ago, we posted a list of 5 Obscure Facts About the Declaration of Independence, namely:

  • There was no "United States" in the Declaration of Independence
  • Jefferson was upset that slavery was edited out
  • The youngest signer was 26-year-old Edward Rutledge and the oldest was 70-year-old Benjamin Franklin.
  • Richard Stockton was the only one that ever recanted his oath (after he was captured by the British)
  • Bargain hunter bought an old copy of the Declaration of Independence at a flea market for $4, and sold it for more than $8 millions.

This year, let's add 5 more neat facts:

Thomas Jefferson: Called Americans "Subjects"

Historians have always wondered about a smear under the word "citizens" in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence. They've wondered if Jefferson had written "our fellow patriots" or "our fellow residents." Using a spectral imaging technology, researchers revealed the truth: Jefferson had a Freudian slip and wrote "subjects" instead of citizens.

"Seldom can we re-create a moment in history in such a dramatic and living way," Library of Congress preservation director Dianne van der Reyden said at Friday's announcement of the discovery.

"It's almost like we can see him write 'subjects' and then quickly decide that's not what he wanted to say at all, that he didn't even want a record of it," she said. "Really, it sends chills down the spine." (Source)

The Original Declaration of Independence: Faded and Rolled Up

You'd think that the original Declaration of Independence - the very document that founded the United States of America - would be treated with respect. Well, it is now. It is stored in special, bullet-proof encasement made of titanium with gold plated frames and filled with inert argon gas to prevent decomposition, but that wasn't the case right after it was signed (see the faded and beat up copy above).

According to historian Pauline Maier, who wrote American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, explains:

It wasn't taken care of very well in the early years. It was sort of rolled up, carried around with the Second Continental Congress. And then the State Department kept it, and if people came, they'd pull it out and show it to them. None of this, you know, enormous--What do they call it?--at the Library of Congress--argon caskets, you know, these heavy metal, glass cases that have gas in them without oxygen so that the documents don't decompose. And the Library of Congress keeps them sort of in a refrigerator. It's the most precious documents--none of that.

I mean, they just pulled it out and showed it to you, the real thing. And then they got tired of pulling it out, so they pasted it up on a wall in what was then the patent office, and there it remained for 30 years near a very bright window. It faded. And they spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what they could do with it. Modern preservation techniques are really a quite recent development. (Source)

Handprint on the Declaration of Independence

Indeed, there is a handprint in the bottom left corner of the Declaration of Independence. How it got there isn't known, but historians think that it was because it was handled so casually in the early days of the Republic.

You can download a high-resolution image of the Declaration of Independence at Archives.org's Charters of Freedom: Link

It Was Not Written On Paper

It wasn't written on hemp either, despite the insistence of your pot-smoking friend. The Declaration of Independence was written on parchment, which is basically treated animal skin (typically sheepskin). It was inked with iron gall ink, which is made by combining fermented oak marble galls with ferrous sulfate.

The Back of the Declaration of Independence

Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Yes, there actually was something written in the back of the Declaration of Independence. But instead of an invisible map like in the Nicholas Cage blockbuster movie National Treasure, it only said "Original Declaration of Independence, dated 4th July 1776" at the bottom of the document, upside down.

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Frank, I think the point is that the document itself was declaring our independence from the monarchy and therefore we would no longer be "subjects" but "citizens" of a new government despite the fact that the final form of that actual government would not be completed until the Constitution was ratified.

It demonstrates that Jefferson had to even change his mindset seeing this was the first declaration of its kind against the British throne.

Overall it's just a neat fact that allows historians to get all excited. And they deserve to get excited once in a while. :)
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In answer to the "when did it become the United States, basically it was after the Civil War. Before that people would say " the united states are..." and after they would say " the Umited States is...". ( credit to late historian Shelby Foote for that)
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