Q. Is anything written on the back of the Declaration of Independence?
A. Yes, there is writing on the back of the original, signed Declaration of Independence. But it is not invisible, nor does it include a map, as the Disney feature film, National Treasure, suggests. The writing on the back reads “Original Declaration of Independence, dated 4th July 1776,” and it appears on the bottom of the document, upside down. To learn more, read the article, The Flip Side of History. Please note that the back of the Declaration of Independence is not on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.
Q. Is the original Declaration of Independence written on paper?
A. No, the original was engrossed on parchment which is an animal skin specially treated with lime and stretched to create a strong, long-lasting writing support. The printed version is on paper and was read aloud from town squares throughout the colonies, so that those who could not read would receive the news about intended separation from England.
Q. Do other copies of the Declaration of Independence exist?
A. Yes, there are 26 copies known to exist of what is commonly referred to as “the Dunlap Broadside.” Twenty one are owned by American institutions, two are owned by British institutions, and three are owned by private owners.
The Dunlap Broadside copies were printed on paper on the night of July 4, and thus are contemporary with the original Declaration that is engrossed on parchment. Given the great interest in and popularity of the document to the American people, many facsimile copies of the Declaration have been made over the years. These copies have been printed in many sizes and formats as souvenirs and for the purpose of display in governmental and other offices and schoolrooms across the nation.
Q. Was Thomas Jefferson the only person involved in writing the Declaration of Independence?
A. Jefferson was the author of the document and was a member of the Committee of Five that was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies’ case for independence. The committee consisted of two New England men, John Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut; two men from the Middle Colonies, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York; and one southerner, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.
Q. Has the Declaration of Independence always been at the National Archives in Washington, DC?
A. No, after the signing ceremony on August 2, 1776, the Declaration was most likely filed in Philadelphia in the office of Charles Thomson, who served as the Secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789. The document probably accompanied the Continental Congress as the body traveled during the uncertain months and years of the Revolution.
On December 13, 1952, the Declaration, along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights were formally delivered into the custody of Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover and enshrined at a ceremony on Dec. 15, 1952, attended by President Harry S. Truman.
Q. Is the encasement that holds the Declaration of Independence bullet-resistant?
Q. Who constructed the new encasements and what are they made of?
A. The new encasements, which look like large, deep picture frames, were designed to meet National Archives’ specifications that ensure the preservation of the Charters for future generations. The encasements were constructed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and are made of titanium and aluminum. The frames are gold plated to evoke the style of historic frames.
Did You Know?
• The Declaration of Independence was adopted by 12 of 13 colonies (New York did not vote) on July 4, 1776, but wasn’t actually signed by all the delegates until August 2, 1776.
• Engrossing is the process of preparing an official document in a large, clear hand. Timothy Matlack, a Pennsylvanian who had assisted the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson, was probably the engrosser of the Declaration.
• John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the first to sign the sheet of parchment measuring 24¼ by 29¾ inches.
• A handprint appears on the bottom left corner of the Declaration of Independence. The origins and circumstances of the handprint are not known. The document was handled, rolled, and traveled about and exhibited extensively in its early life. Attempting to clean the handprint and other soil that has worked into the parchment could damage the fragile document.
• The official title of the head of the National Archives and Records Administration is Archivist of the United States.
• The Declaration of Independence is housed in a specially-sealed encasement containing the inert gas argon with a controlled amount of humidity to keep the parchment flexible. The encasement is constructed of ballistically-resistant materials. The document is closely guarded.
• In the Rotunda, above the Charters of Freedom, the murals by Barry Faulkner have been removed, cleaned, and restored. Although they don’t depict actual historical events, they help convey the importance of the Charters of Freedom by showing a presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to John Hancock by Jefferson in 1776 and a presentation of the Constitution to George Washington by Madison in 1787.
• If you were a member of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, you were a rebel and considered a traitor by the King of England. You knew that a reward had been posted for the capture of certain prominent rebel leaders and signing your name to the Declaration meant that you pledged your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to the cause of freedom.
• Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and member of the Committee of Five died on July 4, 1826. And John Adams, also a committee member, died on the same day.
• The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, were removed from display on July 5, 2001, and have undergone long-planned conservation treatment and are sealed in new, state-of-the-art encasements. On Sept. 17, 2003, the renovated Rotunda was rededicated, and the newly re-encased Charters of Freedom were unveiled.