Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Sussex Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, but there has long been disagreement on which day (or days) it was actually signed. Although the evidence is not clear-cut, some historians consider August 2 rather than July 4 to be the day the document was signed by all (or most) of the delegates to the Second Congressional Congress. What is not in dispute, however, is that ultimately 56 signatures were affixed, and that these are grouped by state, with the exception of Congress President John Hancock, whose iconic signature appears at the head of the others. This founding document was engrossed on parchment and is permanently housed in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.

The original Declaration (also known as the Matlack Declaration) is now complemented by the Sussex Declaration, which is the only other known manuscript copy of the Declaration on parchment from the late 1700s. Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, researchers at Harvard's Declaration Resources Project, first came across the document in August 2015; it derives its moniker from the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, U.K., the repository where it is located.

The Sussex copy is the same size as the Matlack Declaration, but is oriented horizontally. More notably, some of the signers' names are misspelled, and the names are not grouped by states. Allen and Sneff believe that James Wilson, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, is the person who likely commissioned the Sussex Declaration. They discuss many of their findings in Discovering the Sussex Declaration, a lecture delivered at the National Archives on July 6, 2017.

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