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On 4 July 1776, the Committee of Five that had drafted the Declaration of Independence presented their corrected and approved text to the printing shop of John Dunlap, the publisher of The Pennsylvania Packet. Copies were to be sent to "the several Assemblies, Conventions & Committees or Councils of Safety and to the several Commanding Officers of the Continental troops that it be proclaimed in each of the United States & at the head of the army."1
Dunlap rapidly printed a small number of copies of the Declaration on the night of July 4-5. On July 5, the first copies began to be distributed and independence was proclaimed in Philadelphia on July 8. News of the Declaration was spread at the speed of horse-borne riders throughout the colonies, and it was soon reprinted in newspapers and local broadside editions. In New York, the Declaration was read to Washington's assembled army on July 9; "Independency" was proclaimed "out of the balcony of the Town House" in Boston on July 18, to the ringing of bells, firing of cannon, and hearty cheers of the town's population.2
It is this rapidly produced but handsomely printed version of the Declaration that conveyed the news of the birth of a new nation and fixed July 4 as the national anniversary. The famous engrossed manuscript copy now at the National Archives was authorized and signed after the fact. This is one of only twenty-three known copies of the first Dunlap printing, the most important single printed document in American history.3
1. Frederick R. Goff. The John Dunlap Broadside: The First Printing of the Declaration of Independence. Washington, 1976, p.4.
2. Henry Alline, Jr., letter to his family, Boston, 19 July 1776, Massachusetts Historical Society.
3. John Carter and Percy Muir, comps. Printing and the Mind of Man. London, 1967, p.220.