Declaration of Independence

Southwick Broadside

The regular designated viewing hours for the Declaration of Independence exhibit are Monday-Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., in Olin Library.

A copy of the Declaration of Independence at the Olin Library.

An exhibit of a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence is now open at John M. Olin Library.
James Byard/Washington University in St. Louis

More than a year after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to break all ties with Britain and to declare this decision to the new nation and the world. On July 4, 1776, two days after the approval of a resolution dissolving all allegiance to Britain, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence to formally announce the creation of a new sovereign nation, referring to it by a name never before used in a public document: “the United States of America.” Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration, which John Adams and Benjamin Franklin edited.

That evening, Congress directed John Dunlap to print copies, known as broadsides, to be sent to every state and the Continental Army. The handwritten copy of the Declaration on display at the National Archives was finally signed on August 2, 1776.

A copy of the “Dunlap Broadside” arrived in Rhode Island on July 6, 1776. Using that copy, Solomon Southwick printed 29 copies in Newport and distributed them throughout the state. This copy, known as the “Southwick Broadside,” was posted in Warwick and signed on the back by the town clerk.

When Henry Ward, secretary of the state assembly, signed the broadside, he became the first person to sign any copy of the Declaration, preceding even John Hancock, whose name was printed on the broadside to attest its authenticity. Only 7 copies of the Southwick broadside exist, whereas 26 copies of the Dunlap broadside survive today. Before the Newman Family gave the Declaration broadside to Washington University in 2015, this document was among the last known copies in private hands.

Read more about the Declaration of Independence exhibition in our Q&A with Cassie Brand, curator of rare books.