The Documents

July 4, 1776 is the date most Americans associate with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document which marks the transformation from 13 colonies to a new young nation. When the church bells rang out over Philadelphia late in the afternoon of July 4, 1776, they signaled that the second Continental Congress had officially adopted the document. However it had not yet been signed. The Congressional committee in charge of the Declaration, ‘the Committee of Five’, first had several copies of the document made by the Dunlap and Claypoole printing shop. These were distributed to various assemblies, conventions and military commanders before the official signing took place in Philadelphia on August 2nd, 1776.

Today 24 copies of what is referred to as the ‘Dunlap broadside’ are known to exist. They are owned by American and British institutions as well as by private owners. At the end of June, one of the existing copies was auctioned by Sotheby’s online and sold for $7.4 million.

The Articles of Confederation were drafted in the midst of war, just weeks after the Declaration was signed, and served as the first national constitution once unanimous approval from the states was won in March of 1781.

These articles were revised in 1787 when the state delegates gathered in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution. These fundamental principles of government took effect in 1789 and have been amended over the years. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights and were ratified in 1791. The latest is the 27th amendment, which was ratified in 1992.