You probably know that the Declaration of Independence is celebrated every year on July 4th, and that it was written by Thomas Jefferson. You might also be aware that 56 men signed it, one of which being Benjamin Franklin. Some people may recall learning that John Hancock was the first to sign, and also boasts the largest signature.
However, there are some facts revolving around our Declaration of Independence that many people don’t know that may surprise you. Following are some fun, historical facts about our July 4th holiday and our Declaration of Independence:
- Eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration were born in Britain. Although the majority were native-born Americans, eight of them were not. Two were born in England, one in Wales, two in Scotland, two from Ireland and one from Northern Ireland.
- One of the 56 signers later recanted. Richard Stockton was the only signer of the Declaration who recanted his support later. On November 30, 1776, he was captured by the British and thrown in jail. After months of harsh treatment, he repudiated his signature and swore his allegiance to King George III. However, once he regained his freedom, he took an oath of loyalty to the state of New Jersey in 1777.
- The copy of the Declaration on display in Washington, D.C., is not the only copy, nor is it the earliest. The Committee of Five – Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston and John Adams – was in charge of overseeing the reproduction of the approved text. These were done at the shop of Philadelphia printer John Dunlap. On July 5, hundreds of copies were distributed and dispatched across the 13 colonies and became known as the “Dunlap Broadsides”. Only 26 copies are known to have survived, and they pre-date the formal signed copy on display today in Washington.
- During World War II, the original copy was moved from Washington, D.C. to Fort Knox. Two days before Christmas Day in 1941, the Declaration and the Constitution were removed from public display and prepared for evacuation. 150 pounds of protective gear surrounded the Declaration, and on December 26 and 27, surrounded by Secret Service agents, it traveled by train to Louisville, where a cavalry troop escorted it to Fort Knox. It didn’t return to Washington, D.C. until 1944.
- In the movie “National Treasure”, the back of the Declaration has an encrypted message with instructions from the Founding Fathers. Although this was a nice addition to the movie and is untrue, there is, however, a message written upside down on the back. “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776”. No one knows who wrote this or when it was written.
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