Philadelphia is known as the birthplace of the United States, and the founders signed some of the most important historical documents there. Likewise, the Declaration of Independence is one of the most famous documents in American history. But is the Declaration of Independence on display at Independence Hall?
The Declaration of Independence is not kept at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Instead, the original document is stored at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. It is kept in a special storage container to conserve the document and is on display during the museum’s operating hours.
Was the Declaration of Independence really signed on July 4? Can you visit the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed? How is the Declaration of Independence protected? Read on to learn more about this important piece of American history.
We Hold These Truths…
Independence Hall, located in Philadelphia, is one of the most historical buildings in the United States. It served as a meeting place for the founding fathers, was the home of the second Continental Congress, and hosted the Constitutional Convention. In addition, it served as the capital building for the state of Pennsylvania until the capital was relocated to Lancaster in 1799. Most importantly, Independence Hall is the place where the Declaration of Independence was conceived and signed in the years leading to the Revolutionary War.
The physical parchment that we know as the Declaration of Independence is actually a formalized version of the original document.
The document that Congress ratified at Independence Hall on July 4, 1776, was hand-written by Thomas Jefferson, then taken to a congressional clerk to be rewritten in nice penmanship on parchment big enough that anybody could read it. That engrossed parchment was later signed by congressional delegates, but it is not the original document written by Jefferson.
While the Declaration of Independence was signed at Independence Hall, it no longer resides in Pennsylvania. Instead, the Declaration of Independence is now stored at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
You could argue that the Declaration of Independence belongs in Philadelphia, as Philadelphia played a significant role in early American history and the Declaration was signed here, but the decision was made long ago that the Declaration of Independence should reside in our nation’s capital along with other important pieces of American history. It sits in the Archives alongside the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as part of America’s founding documents.
Even though the Declaration resides elsewhere, visitors to Independence Hall can still see an incredible piece of American history. In the west wing of Independence Hall, visitors will find the original copy of the Declaration that was read aloud by Colonel John Nixon on Independence Square on July 8, 1776, announcing the United States’ decision to secede from England.
But while Colonel Nixon’s announcement of the United States’ secession was undoubtedly thrilling to people in Philadelphia, how did people across the colonies learn of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence?
Shortly after Congress ratified the Declaration, it was taken to an Irish immigrant and printmaker named John Dunlap. Dunlap printed off about 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence that are now known as the Dunlap broadsides.
These documents were circulated across the colonies and often read aloud at town squares to share the news that the colonies were breaking away from Mother England. Unfortunately, there are only about 26 remaining copies of the Dunlap broadsides known to exist in the world, making these documents extremely rare and valuable.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Sometime between 1903 and 1951, a mysterious handprint appeared on the Declaration of Independence. Conservators do not know whose handprint it is but have left it on the document.
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Was the Declaration of Independence Signed on July 4?
The Declaration of Independence was actually signed on August 2, 1776. However, we celebrate Independence Day on July 4 because the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence during the period between June 11 and June 28, 1776. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin helped Jefferson finalize the document, and the founders presented the draft to the Continental Congress after the July 2 adoption of the Lee Resolution. Congress revised the document over the course of July 3, and on the afternoon of July 4, they formally adopted the Declaration.
The actual Declaration of Independence, famously written in beautiful script on a large piece of parchment, was created around July 19 of 1776. Once this engrossed parchment was ready, it was presented to the Continental Congress on August 2.
On that day, delegates to the Continental Congress converged on Independence Hall to formally sign the Declaration of Independence. Signatories included famous American patriots such as Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and of course, John Hancock. Fifty-six delegates in total signed the Declaration of Independence.
Due to the complicated nature of the era, not everybody was able to sign the Declaration at the same time. It is believed that seven signatures were added to the document after the fact. For whatever reason, two other delegates – New York’s Robert R. Livingston and Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson – simply did not sign the Declaration.
It is hard to overstate the bravery of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence. In the late 1700s, England was a world superpower, and the colonies that would later become the United States were disorganized, with few resources and many obstacles in their way.
Despite knowing that they would be going up against the most powerful military on the planet, and knowing that failure meant execution by the English, the founders were willing to risk their lives and liberty to create a more just and equitable society. The creation and adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the founders was an incredibly courageous and rebellious act, which is why we continue to honor it to this day.
Can You Visit Where the Declaration of Independence was Signed?
The Declaration of Independence was signed in the Pennsylvania State House, which was later named Independence Hall. Today, Independence Hall is part of the National Park Service’s Independence National Historical Park.
Independence Hall is open to the public. Tickets are required between March and December, but admission is free in January and February. Independence Hall is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, and guests must pass through a security checkpoint to enter.
While the signing is often portrayed as a festive and joyous event today, at the time, the signers knew that the act of openly declaring rebellion against England could very well lead to their persecution and death. They also knew this would likely signal the beginning of an open war against one of the most feared militaries in the world. The founders took on a heavy burden when they decided to cut ties with England. Visitors to Independence Hall will feel the weight of history within.
How is the Real Declaration of Independence Protected?
The Declaration of Independence has had a rough ride. In the era in which it was created, there were no reliable ways to preserve documents like we have today. In addition, the Declaration of Independence changed hands many times over the years. As a result, it is covered with grease marks, folds, and even a mysterious handprint.
The Declaration was written on regular parchment with a traditional quill pen and regular ink. It was largely unprotected for decades upon decades, and as one might expect, it began to show signs of wear. Chronic exposure to light damaged the document, which caused the ink to fade out. The advent of flash photography only made the problem worse, as repeated flashes dulled the document.
In addition to damage from light, the Declaration was stored in the humid air of Washington, DC. The constant expansion and contraction of the document due to fluctuations in temperature and humidity caused it to warp and crack. By the mid-20th century, people were concerned that the Declaration might eventually be destroyed.
The Declaration of Independence was sealed into an airtight compartment filled with humidified helium in 1951 to prevent this. Engineers designed the enclosure to protect the Declaration from all of the hazards of the natural world. Ensconced in its special enclosure, the Declaration was placed in the rotunda of the National Archives building, where it stayed until 2001.
In 2001, more signs of deterioration were observed, and the Declaration was moved to a more stable environment. The present-day enclosure is built from aluminum and titanium and filled with stable argon gas. The Declaration’s enclosure is covered in ⅜-inch-thick bulletproof glass and closely watched by armed guards and camera systems. During the day, the Declaration is displayed for visitors. At night, it is mechanically whisked away to an underground vault for safekeeping.
Visitors can see the Declaration of Independence in its astonishing display case at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC.
Into The Vault
Independence Hall is where the founding fathers and the delegates of the Constitutional Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. Independence Hall has also been home to treasured American artifacts such as the Liberty Bell and is home to the original copy of the Declaration that was read on Independence Square on July 8, 1776. However, the actual Declaration of Independence itself is now safely stored at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, alongside America’s other founding documents.