We hold these truths … Declaration of Independence, Life of William Grimes, Declaration of Sentiments, and Frederick Douglass’s Oration on view June 22 - July 30, 2023 (extended!)

June 20, 2023

By Michael Morand

The Beinecke Library marks the 247th anniversary of the nation’s founding with a display of vital documents of United States history from Yale Library special collections.
All are welcome to visit and see one of the 26 known copies of the historic first printing of the Declaration of Independence. The first printings are known as Dunlap Broadsides in honor of John Dunlap, who printed approximately 200 copies in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. You can view and download a digital copy here.
Other essential documents on view include:
  • Life of William Grimes, the runaway slave, written by himself, first edition, New York, 1825, second edition, New Haven, 1855, the nation’s first book-length narrative by a person who escaped from slavery. 
  • Report of the Woman’s Rights Convention, Held at Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 19th and 20th, 1848. Rochester: Printed by John Dick at the North Star Office (i.e., Frederick Douglass’s newspaper office). The Report will be open to the first words of the convention’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” which declares, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal … “
  • Frederick Douglass’s Oration, delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, July 5, 1852, published by request, Rochester: Printed by Lee, Mann & Co., 1852. The oration is now remembered as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
  • Carte-de-visite images of Douglass from 1860 and of Lucretia Mott, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and an organizer of the 1848 convention, from 1870. 

Links to full texts:

Declaration of Independence

1848 Woman’s Rights Convention

Douglass’s 1852 oration

Life of William Grimes

More about the first printing of the Declaration of Indepdence on July 4, 1776

The Second Continental Congress appointed, on June 11, 1776, a Committee of Five – John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman – to draft the Declaration. Jefferson prepared the original rough draft, now in the Library of Congress. The committee presented its final draft on June 28, 1776.

The Congress debated July 1-4, 1776, and voted approval of the final text on the late morning of July 4. The committee prepared a final fair copy, not known to have survived, for Dunlap to use for printing. He worked through the night. The broadsides were sent across the 13 states to be read aloud and used by newspapers for further printing. The Dunlap Broadsides were the original means by which people learned of the nation’s independence.

It would be two weeks before the Congress resolved, on July 19, 1776, to have the Declaration engrossed – i.e., written in a clear hand on parchment – and signed individually. Delegates began to sign the engrossed Declaration on August 2, 1776. That document, with the prominent handwritten signature of John Hancock, is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Exhibition hours

The Dunlap Broadside will be on view on the library’s mezzanine from Thursday, June 22, through Wednesday, July 12, 2023. Located at 121 Wall Street, the library’s exhibition hall is free and open to the public daily. See Hours and other details for more information on daily hours and current public health protocols. Please note: the library is closed on Monday, July 4, in observance of Independence Day. Visitors are also welcome to view reproductions of the Declaration and other documents on the north ground floor windows of the library (toward Grove Street). This outdoor display can be viewed 24 hours a day

Public readings on July 5, 2023, 4pm

All are welcome to attend special public readings of the Declaration of Independence and Douglass’s oration on Wednesday, July 5, at 4 pm, on the library mezzanine. For more information, visit the detailed calendar listing online. Those unable to attend are welcome to enjoy video readings of the Declaration of Independence and Douglass’s Oration, originally recorded in 2020, on the Beinecke Library YouTube channel. You can also enjoy a 2020 video of the1848 Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention Declaration read by U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.

More nearby 

American history is alive and accessible throughout New Haven. Visitors are also encouraged to see other markers of U.S. history related to the Declaration of Independence located near the Beinecke Library. 

Immediately north of the library, the Grove Street Cemetery, 227 Grove Street, is the burial site of Roger Sherman, a signatory of the Declaration and one of the Committee of Five charged with drafting and presenting the Declaration. It is also the final resting place of William Grimes and other notable New Haveners. The first chartered burial ground in the U.S., the cemetery is free and open to the public daily 9 am – 4 pm. On July 4, the General David Humphreys Branch of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, will honor all 56 signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and local veterans of the Revolutionary War, at their 71st annual Independence Day ceremony at 9 am. All are welcome to attend.

A few blocks south of the Beinecke Library, the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel Street, holds numerous works of art related to the founding of the nation. The works on view to the public include John Trumbull’s “The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776,” a depiction of the Committee of Five presenting the document to John Hancock.  Visit the art gallery’s website for more information on hours and public health protocols.