Saturday, October 24, 2009

Declaration of Independence

On display at the Virginia Historical Society was a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence. Such copies are known as Dunlap Broadsheets. Around 200 were printed up on July 4, 1776 (by a guy called John Dunlap) and sent across the 13 States to be read publicly. Only 26 are known to survive. This particular example was found folded up behind a painting, which is a rather cliched circumstance of discovery, but makes it no less amazing that this 233 old piece of paper remains in almost mint condition. The Continental Congress commissioned the more familiar calligraphied versions of the Declaration, such as is on display in Washington D.C., which were not completed until August 2. Although the Dunlap Broadsheets are less visually stunning, you can't help imagine a town crier or army officer receiving this document and after announcing it's message, carefully folding and tucking it into a coat pocket for safe keeping, while others became lost in a pile of papers or forgotten on some noticeboard.
Seeing an artifact from any historical event also brings the story into the realm of reality. History easily becomes a myth, but casting your eyes on the physical evidence reminds you that merely human people were involved. This becomes even more evident when you take the time to read the words in their entirety. One would be forgiven for thinking that the Declaration of Independence is an eternal essay on human freedom and a blueprint for revolutionaries of any time and place. It certainly has it's highlights, for example: "We hold these truths self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". Actually, that about wraps up the universally applicable highlights. The rest of the document is specific to the circumstances that the colonies found themselves in with respect to the crown. In fact the Declaration goes as far to say that in most cases civilizations are best served by striving to making a bad system of government better, rather than overthrowing an administration for 'light or transient causes'. Sound advice indeed in these trying times.

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