Celebrate the Declaration!

Celebrate the Declaration! - Dixie & Grace

What makes you happy?

I produced the video below, "The Unanimous Declaration of Independence," to briefly show the painstaking three-year process of hand-engraving and paper-making undertaken by artist José-Maria Cundin to create his facsimile of the most important document in American history. However, there is more to this story of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, that I wanted to share.

For those of us blessed to have been born in this country, we can easily take for granted the simple things afforded to us:  

  • The ability to publicly speak our opinions, even against our government
  • Freedom to worship and to peaceably assemble, all without the fear of being imprisoned

Imagine life for someone that was born in Bilbao, the Basque Country of Spain in the 1930s, under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Franco had a reputation for being a harsh and vindictive leader who often had his political opponents executed, starved, or overworked.

When Cundin eventually immigrated to the United States in 1958, the proclamation of freedom in the Declaration of Independence  greatly appealed to Cundin:

"When I first read that phrase in the Declaration, I was struck by emotion. I have never encountered something so poetic and human as that, the pathos and drama. It was like finding the words of a new gospel. It is enlightening. There is speculation these words replaced a statement more committed to the Divinity."

All of us should have this same emotion and passion for the Declaration. We should read and celebrate the words every day.

Fifty-six men committed a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, as they mutually pledged to each other their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor when they signed the Declaration.

It's important to note that there is more than a single document. Various versions were created, and are each unique and significant.

1: Hand-Written Draft - On June 11, 1776, the Continental Congress created a committee consisting of Thomas JeffersonJohn Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston to draft a Declaration of Independence. The Library of Congress holds and protects the original final draft written by Jefferson.

2: Engrossed & Signed Parchment - After Congress approved the final draft on July 2, 1776, orders to have the document engrossed (written formally in a large exact script, as a deed or other legal document) on parchment and signed by the delegates. The majority of them did so on August 2, 1776. This document is in the care of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

3: The Dunlap Broadside - A Philadelphia printer, John Dunlap, was given the task of printing the first broadside (a large sheet of paper printed on one side only, used as posters, announcing events or proclamations). They were printed by July 5 and distributed to the Committees of Safety in every colony and General George Washington. The only names printed were John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson, Secretary, and John Dunlap, printer. There are 25 existing Dunlap copies. In 2000, a copy sold at auction for $8.1 million.

4: Various Newspaper Printings - Between July 6 and July 26, many newspapers throughout the colonies printed the text of the Declaration. The first to do so was The Pennsylvania Evening Post. There are only 19 copies known to exist, one of which recently sold for $632,500.

5: Manuscript Copies - Are hand-written copies of the final, approved text. The most authoritative document would be that by Charles Thomson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress.

6: The Goddard Broadside - A second "official" broadside was requested to be printed by the Continental Congress. This time by female printer Mary Katherine Goddard. Goddard's copies included the signers' names and were sent to each of the states for their official archives. Very few of these copies are known to exist today.

7: William J. Stone Engraving - In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, noticing the poor faded condition of the engrossed signed copy, commissioned William J. Stone to create an engraved facsimile of the document. It took Stone three years to complete his engraving on a copper plate and printed on vellum (prepared animal skin used as a writing material). Stone printed two hundred copies, and 51 are known to be in existence. A copy sold for $597,500 in 2012.

8: José-Maria Cundin Engraving - In the late 1980s, Cundin set out to re-create ancient calligraphy techniques, hand-engraving, and paper-making to make an heirloom edition of the Declaration of Independence. In the same process as Stone, a plate was hand-engraved; however, Cundin used brass instead of copper. Also, in place of vellum, heavyweight hand made paper was created for the engraving. 

In January of 1777, John Hancock sent Goddard Broadside copies to each of the states, with the following message:

"As there is not a more distinguished Event in the History of America, than the Declaration of her Independence--nor any that in all Probability, will so much excite the Attention of future Ages, it is highly proper that the memory of that Transaction, together with the Causes that gave Rise to it, should be preserved in the most careful Manner that can be devised."

Hancock was correct in the document preservation for future ages, and I believe Cundin has achieved this request. This printing, unlike the originals, will last for generations.

Now ask yourself the question again what makes you happy? Hopefully, you'll agree with me that having the freedom to be ourselves and pursue a life with freedom is what makes us happy.

We wish you peace, joy, and happiness!