Declaring Freedom: Declaration of Independence and Other Documents of National History on View through July 15, 2024

June 20, 2024

By Michael Morand

The Beinecke Library marks the 248th anniversary of the nation’s founding with a display of vital documents of United States history from Yale Library special collections, including the original printing of the Declaration of Independence, one of 26 known surviving copies of about 200 made by John Dunlap in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.


About the first printing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Five—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Connecticut’s own Roger Sherman—to draft a statement of the colonies’ independence from Great Britain. Jefferson prepared the original rough draft, now in the Library of Congress, and the committee presented its final draft on June 28, 1776.
After four days of debate, July 1-4, the congress approved the final text late in the morning of July 4. The committee prepared a final fair copy, not known to have survived, for printing. Dunlap worked through the night. The broadsides were sent across the thirteen colonies 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—that is, written in a clear hand on parchment—and signed. Delegates began to sign the engrossed Declaration on August 2, 1776. That document, with the well-known, prominent handwritten signature of John Hancock, is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Other documents declaring freedom on view at Beinecke

Other essential documents on view include key texts published by Black Americans in Connecticut and nearby in the early decades of the new republic, including:

  • A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States of America / Related by Himself, New London, Connecticut, 1798; the narrative of a man who purchased his freedom in Connecticut in 1765.
  • The Blind African Slave, or, Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nick-named Jeffrey Brace, St. Albans, Vermont, 1810; memoir of an enslaved man who won his freedom through service in the Revolutionary War.
  • Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, Written by Himself, New York, New York, 1825, and New Haven, Connecticut, 1855; first book-length narrative written by a person who escaped from enslavement in the U.S. 
  • Walker’s Appeal … To the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829, by David Walker, third and last edition, Boston, Massachusetts, 1830; an early publication of Black liberation in the U.S.

Through July 7, visitors can also see numerous documents related to Frederick Douglass in the building-wide exhibition Douglass, Baldwin, Harrington: The Collections of Walter O. Evans at Beinecke Library. Items on view in the show include:

  • Frederick Douglass, “Speech of Mr. Douglass at a Mass Meeting Fanuel [sic] Hall for Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia,” February 4, 1842, undated typescript copy; “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” July 5, 1852, excerpts, undated typescript copy. Walter O. Evans Collection of Frederick Douglass and Douglass Family Papers.
  • Douglass, Oration, Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, Rochester: Lee, Mann, & Co., 1852. Slavery Pamphlets Collection. 

Exhibition hours

The Dunlap Broadside will be on view on the library’s mezzanine from Thursday, June 20, through Monday, July 15, 2024. 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. Please note: the library is closed on Thursday, 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 through mid-July 2024. 

Public readings on July 5, 2024, 4pm

All are welcome to attend special public readings of the Declaration of Independence and Frederick Douglass’s oration on Friday, July 5, at 4pm, 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.

Links to full texts:

More to see nearby in New Haven related to the Declaration of Independence

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, 9am to 4pm. On Thursday, July 4, at 9am, 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 73rd annual Independence Day ceremony. 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. The gallery is free and open to all.