Declaration of Independence Facts
Questions & Answers
Q. Is anything written on the back of the Declaration of Independence?
A. Yes, there is writing on the back of the original, signed Declaration of Independence. But it is not invisible, nor does it include a map, as the Disney feature film, National Treasure, suggests. The writing on the back reads "Original Declaration of Independence, dated 4th July 1776," and it appears on the bottom of the document, upside down. To learn more, read the article, The Flip Side of History. Please note that the back of the Declaration of Independence is not on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.
Q. Is the original Declaration of Independence written on paper?
A. No, the original was engrossed on parchment which is an animal skin specially treated with lime and stretched to create a strong, long-lasting writing support. Other versions were printed on paper and read aloud from town squares throughout the colonies, so that those who could not read would receive the news about intended separation from England.
Q. Do other copies of the Declaration of Independence exist?
The Dunlap Broadside copies were printed on paper on the night of July 4,— and thus are contemporary with the original Declaration that is engrossed on parchment. Given the great interest in and popularity of the document to the American people, many facsimile copies of the Declaration have been made over the years. These copies have been printed in many sizes and formats as souvenirs and for the purpose of display in governmental and other offices and schoolrooms across the nation.
Q. Was Thomas Jefferson the only person involved in writing the Declaration of Independence?
A. Jefferson was the author of the document and was a member of the Committee of Five that was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies case for independence. The committee consisted of two New England men, John Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut; two men from the Middle Colonies, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York; and one southerner, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.
Q. Has the Declaration of Independence always been at the National Archives in Washington, DC?
A. No, after the signing ceremony on August 2, 1776, the Declaration was most likely filed in Philadelphia in the office of Charles Thomson, who served as the Secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789. The document probably accompanied the Continental Congress as the body traveled during the uncertain months and years of the Revolution.
On December 13, 1952, the Declaration, along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights were formally delivered into the custody of Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover and enshrined at a ceremony on December 15, 1952, attended by President Harry S. Truman. For more information about the document's travels see Travels of the Declaration of Independence – A Time Line.
Q. Who constructed the new encasements and what are they made of?
A. The new encasements, which look like large, deep picture frames, were designed to meet National Archives specifications that ensure the preservation of the Charters for future generations. The encasements were constructed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of titanium and aluminum. The frames are gold plated to evoke the style of historic frames.
Q. Are other documents also encased in this way?
Q. Where can I find more information about the movie National Treasure?
A. Visit the movie web site at http://www.nationaltreasure.com
Did You Know?
- The Declaration of Independence was adopted by 12 of 13 colonies (New York not voting) on July 4, 1776, but wasn't actually signed by all the delegates until August 2, 1776.
- Engrossing is the process of preparing an official document in a large, clear hand. Timothy Matlack, a Pennsylvanian who had assisted the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson, was probably the engrosser of the Declaration.
- John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the first to sign the sheet of parchment measuring 24¼ by 29¾ inches.
- A handprint appears on the bottom left corner of the Declaration of Independence. The origins and circumstances of the handprint are not known. The document was handled, rolled, and traveled about and exhibited extensively in its early life. Attempting to clean the handprint and other soil that has worked into the parchment could damage the fragile document.
- The official title of the head of the National Archives and Records Administration is Archivist of the United States.
- The Declaration of Independence is housed in a specially sealed encasement containing the inert gas argon with a controlled amount of humidity to keep the parchment flexible. The encasement is constructed of ballistically resistant materials. The document is closely guarded.
- The movie National Treasure was not filmed inside the National Archives Building. A reproduction of the Declaration of Independence was used in filming the movie.
- In the Rotunda, above the Charters of Freedom, the murals by Barry Faulkner have been removed, cleaned, and restored. Although they don't depict actual historical events, they help convey the importance of the Charters of Freedom by showing a presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to John Hancock by Jefferson in 1776 and a presentation of the Constitution to George Washington by Madison in 1787.
- You can purchase a 24 ¼ x 37 ½ inch copy of the Declaration of Independence from NARA. Please telephone our sales desk during normal business hours at 1-866-272-6272 and ask for Item 6312.
- If you were a member of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, you were a rebel and considered a traitor by the King of England. You knew that a reward had been posted for the capture of certain prominent rebel leaders and signing your name to the Declaration meant that you pledged your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to the cause of freedom.
- Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and member of the Committee of Five died on July 4, 1826. And John Adams, also a committee member, died on the same day.
- The Declaration
of Independence, the Constitution,
and the Bill
of Rights—known collectively as the Charters
of Freedom, were removed from display on July 5, 2001, and have undergone
treatment and are sealed in new state-of-the-art encasements. On September
17, 2003, the renovated Rotunda was rededicated, and the newly re-encased Charters of Freedom were unveiled.
To learn more about the renovation of the Rotunda of the National Archives and the document re-encasement project, read these online articles from the fall 2003, issue of Prologue, "A Top-to-Bottom Renovation for the National Archives Building " and "A New Era Begins for the Charters of Freedom ."
To learn more about the rededication of the Rotunda, read the online Prologue article "The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom Reopens at the National Archives" from the winter 2003 issue, and comments by dignitaries during our ceremony to rededicate the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, September 17, 2003.