‘THE ONLY CONTEMPORARY MAGAZINE PRINTING OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE’ (Grolier Club).
The ‘Pennsylvania Magazine’ was published in Philadelphia from January 1775 through July 1776 and this last issue for July 1776 included the full text of ‘The Declaration of Independence’ on pp. 328-30. Despite its competition, none matched the ‘Pennsylvania Magazine’ for its influence. ‘Edited by one of the leading revolutionary publicists (Thomas Paine, 1737-1809), the ‘Pennsylvania Magazine’ is, of course, of paramount political interest’ (Mott). Woods states ‘None of its contemporaries exceeded it in social force at a crucial period in American history’. The War abruptly ended the ‘Pennsylvania Magazine’ as evidenced by the plea on the upper cover seen here for unpaid subscriptions. This, its last issue carried the Declaration of Independence, something ‘which it had been a strong force in bringing about’ (Woods). Its publisher, Robert Aitken (1734-1802) employed Paine as editor just three months after his arrival in America. Paine wrote in the first issue that ‘It has always been the opinion of the learned and the curious that a magazine, when properly conducted, is the nursery of genius’. It began with a circulation of six hundred copies. It rapidly expanded to one thousand five hundred subscribers and became the most widely read periodical in America.
The June 1776 issue was supposed to be published 3 July, a Wednesday, indicating that the July issue was probably published either Wednesday 31 July (more likely) or 7 August. It stands as the first magazine publication of The Declaration. Page 328 commences:
‘In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776. A Declaration by the Representatives of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA, in General Congress Assembled. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation …’
Declaration of Independence – early printed history
The Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776, a Thursday, and a manuscript copy was rushed to John Dunlap’s print shop, where the first broadside edition was produced that very night. The first to publish the text in a newspaper was Benjamin Towne in the thrice-weekly ‘Pennsylvania Evening Post’ on Saturday 6 July. An example was auctioned at Christies New York in 2007 for $360,000. Towne’s paper would change loyalty as it suited throughout the war and he would be arrested for treason. Only 19 examples of Towne’s issue are recorded.
It was then printed in John Dunlap’s ‘Pennsylvania Packet and The General Advertiser’ on Monday, July 8, which is known in just 12 copies. On the 10 July two items were published: Hall & Seller’s ‘Pennsylvania Gazette’ owned by William Penn and surviving in 17 copies and William Bradford’s ‘Pennsylvania Journal’ known in 9 examples.
‘This magazine is rare and excessively so in original printed wrappers’ (Moebs). Only two examples are recorded alone on the Rare Book Hub since 1964, one lacking two leaves, the other in later binding. None have been identified with the original wrappers. These wrappers include notes on subscriptions taken in various towns in the colonies and adverts for Aitken’s stock.
This issue also includes interesting articles on a ‘Proposal to Prevent Scurvy at Sea’ (p. 312), ‘On the great Danger of Ladies wearing Wires in their Caps, and Pins in their Hair’ (p. 318), and a piece describing the newly discovered Venus Flytrap. More political issues are covered by a narrative on the British attempt to seize Charleston, an account of the Battles of Gwynn’s Island, Virginia, and the proposed constitutions of New Jersey and Virginia.
This example has a particularly interesting provenance. It bears the ownership inscription of Ebenezer Hazard (1744-1817) who ‘was a Princeton-educated New York City printer and post office surveyor, who had returned to Philadelphia in 1782 to become the first postmaster general of the United States under the Constitution. [Jeremy] Belknap described him as his ‘guide, philosopher, and friend.’ Hazard shared Belknap’s intense interest in history and historical documents, and, in 1792, was the first person elected a corresponding (non-resident) member of the Historical Society’ (Mass. Historical Society). ‘In 1778, the Continental Congress appropriated $ 1,000 to enable Ebenezer Hazard, the Postmaster General, to collect records of the former colonies and new States for publication (United State Congress. Senate). Two volumes were ultimately published. Born in Philadelphia, from 1769-1775 he was a partner in the publishing firm of Noel & Hazard in New York. After leaving his post as postmaster-general in 1789 much of the remainder of his life was taken up with recording historical documents relating to America (DAB).
Provenance: manuscript ownership inscription of Ebenezer Hazard, the first US Postmaster General; acquired from Tom Moebs, catalogue 120 item 98, October 1999; private English collection. Brigham, Clarence S. ‘History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820’ 1947; DAB; ‘Grolier Club Exhibitions’, accessed October 2, 2022; Mott (1930) I, pp. 87; Sabin (1868) 60346; Shields, Robin (2010) ‘Publishing the Declaration of Independence by Robin Shields’, transcript published by the Library of Congress; Wood, Gordon (2006) ‘Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different’.