The Declaration of Independence: First Public Readings

Introduction

Researched by James R. Heintze. American University, Washington, D.C.

The Declaration of Independence was printed during the late afternoon on Thursday, July 4, by John Dunlap, a local Philadelphia printer. Congress ordered that copies be sent "to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and 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, and at the head of the Army." By the next morning copies were on their way to all thirteen states by horseback and on July 5 the German Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote, published by Heinrich Miller, became the new nations's first newspaper to announce that the Declaration had been adopted . On Saturday, July 6, the first newspaper print edition of the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Post. On Monday, July 8, the Declaration of Independence was "proclaimed" (read aloud) by Col. John Nixon of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety at the State House in Philadelphia. It was also read again that evening before the militia on the Commons. Throughout the city, bells were rung all day. On that day as well the Declaration was publicly read in Easton, Pennsylvania, and Trenton, New Jersey. It was these first public readings which constituted America's first celebrations of the Fourth of July. Typically in towns and cities across the nation accompanying the oral declarations were loud shouts, huzzas, firings of muskets, and the tearing down of the British emblems. In Baltimore, for example, on July 29, the town was illuminated and "the Effigy of our late King was carted through the town and committed to the flames amidst the acclamations of many hundreds. The just reward of a Tyrant."

July 8

Philadelphia. John Nixon(?); "How the Declaration Was Received," New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2; Charles D. Deshler, "How the Declaration Was Received in the Old Thirteen," Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892).

Trenton, N.J. Virginia Gazette, 26 July 1776; Maryland Gazette, 25 July 1776; New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2.

Easton, Pa. Pennsylvania Post, 11 July 1876; Maryland Journal, 17 July 1776; New-England Chronicle, 25 July 1776.

July 9

New York City. James Munves, Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,1978),122; "The Declaration of Independence" ("First Reading of the Declaration of Independence in New York"), Harper's Weekly, 9 July 1870.

Princeton, N.J. Pennsylvania Evening Post, 13 July 1776; New-York Journal, 18 July 1776; Connecticut Courant, 22 July 1776; Connecticut Gazette, 26 July 1776; Boston Gazette, 29 July 1776; The Scots Magazine (August 1776).

July 9 or 10

New Brunswick, N.J. Col. John Neilson; Harper's New Monthly Magazine, July 1892, 251.

July 10

New York. Virginia Gazette, 26 July 1776; New-York Journal, 11 July 1776; Pennsylvania Evening Post, 13 July 1776; Connecticut Courant, 15 July 1776; Pennsylvania Gazette, 17 July 1776; New England Chronicle, 18 July 1776; Connecticut Gazette, 19 July 1776; Pennsylvania Ledger, 20 July 1776; American Gazette, 23 July 1776; Maryland Gazette, 25 July 1776; New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2.

July 14

Worcester, Mass. Isaiah Thomas; Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892); Massachusetts Spy, 24 July 1776, 3; Niles Weekly Register, 5 August 1826; Ada S. Nutt, "Fourth of July Celebrations in Worcester," as printed in Charles Nutt, History of Worcester and Its People. 2 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1919) 2:665.

According to information published in Celebration by the Inhabitants of Worcester, Mass., of the Centennial Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1876 (Worcester: Printed by Order of the City Council, 1876, p. 23) the date was July 14: "One hundred years ago, on the Fourteenth day of July, the Declaration of Independence, then on its way from Philadelphia to Boston, was intercepted at Worcester, and read for the first time in Massachusetts by a distinguished defender of the American Colonies, Mr. Isaiah Thomas." On the 1876 occasion in Worcester, Hon. Benjamin F. Thomas, a descendant of Isaiah Thomas, was the principal speaker.

July 16

Watertown, Mass. American Gazette, 16 July 1776.

July 18

Boston. Col. Thomas Crafts; Boston Gazette, 22 July 1776; American Gazette, 23 July 1776; New England Chronicle, 25 July 1776; Essex Journal, 26 July 1776; Freeman's Journal, 27 July 1776; Connecticut Gazette, 2 August 1776; Pennsylvania Evening Post, 3 August 1776; New York Journal, 8 August 1776; Maryland Gazette, 15 August 1776; New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2.

New York City. Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892).

Watertown, Mass. Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892).

Portsmouth, N.H. Pennsylvania Packet, 5 August 1776, 2; New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2.

July 20

Newport, R.I. Pennsylvania Evening Post, 1 August 1776; Boston-Gazette, 29 July 1776; New York Journal, 8 August 1776.

July 21

Worcester, Massachusetts. Read by Rev. Thaddeus Maccarty "at the close of his sermon." Ada S. Nutt, "Fourth of July Celebrations in Worcester," as printed in Charles Nutt, History of Worcester and Its People. 2 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1919) 2:665.

July 22

Worcester, Massachusetts. Read "on the green near the liberty pole." Massachusetts Spy, 24 July 1776, as reported in Ada S. Nutt, "Fourth of July Celebrations in Worcester," as printed in Charles Nutt, History of Worcester and Its People. 2 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1919) 2:665.

Huntington, Long Island. New York Journal, 8 August 1776.

Halifax, North Carolina. Cornelius Harnet; Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892).

July 23

East Greenwich, N.Y. New York Journal, 8 August 1776, 2.

July 25

Providence, R.I. Providence Gazette,27 July 1776, 3; New York Journal, 8 August 1776.

Williamsburg. Virginia Gazette, 26 July 1776; New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2.

July 28

Ticonderoga, N.Y. Col. St. Clair; Pennsylvania Evening Post, 15 August 1776; New York Journal, 15 August 1776; New York Packet, 15 August 1776; New York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, 19 August 1776, 2.

July 29

Baltimore. Pennsylvania Packet, 5 August 1776, 2; New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2.

Newport, R.I. Maj. John Handy; Richmond Enquirer, 21 July 1856, 2.

August 1

Amherst, Mass. Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892); Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Knopf, 1997), fn10, 274.

August 4 or 5

Charleston, S.C. Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892); A.V. Huff, Jr., "The Eagle and the Vulture: Changing Attitudes Toward Nationalism in Fourth of July Orations Delivered in Charleston, 1778-1860," South Atlantic Quarterly 73/1 (Winter 1974), 11.

August 5

Richmond, Va. Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892).

August 7

Bridgetown, N.J. Delaware Register, February 1838.

August 10

Savannah, Georgia. Harper's New Monthly Magazine LXXXV (July 1892).

August 11

Boston. Samuel Cooper; New England Chronicle, 15 August 1776.

Further reading on the first public recitations of the Declaration:

Hazelton, John H. The Declaration of Independence: Its History. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1906.

"How the Declaration was Received." New York Times, 4 July 1871, 2.

Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997, chapter 4.

This page last updated March 2011

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