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The Sussex Declaration

The Sussex Declaration

The Sussex Declaration. West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981.
 

Key Facts:

  • Housed at the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, UK; uncovered by the Declaration Resources Project in August 2015
  • The only known parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence apart from the engrossed and signed parchment in the National Archives (refered to herein as the Matlack Declaration). Both words—parchment and manuscript—are important. There are other parchment copies that were printed; these are the only two parchment copies that were handwritten. There are also other handwritten copies of the Declaration, for instance, with the text written out on letter-sized paper for private circulation. The Matlack Declaration and the Sussex Declaration are the only two parchment manuscript copies of the Declaration.
  • Measures 24" x 30", the same size as the Matlack Declaration, but oriented horizontally
  • Interesting features include marginal ruling, decorative penwork around the titling, evidence of nail holes, and justified, round hand script
  • The list of the names of the signers is not in state order, as was typical; the names are scrambled, and several are misspelled
  • Material evidence dates the parchment manuscript to the late 18th century
     

Click to Download Press Release
Click here for images of the Sussex Declaration and related documents (see the "Please Read" document for image permissions and credits).
Please direct all all press inquiries to Peter Reuell, and all inquiries about the Sussex Declaration to Emily Sneff.
**Press Release updated April 24, 2017**

Our research on the Sussex Declaration includes three components:

  1. Dating the parchment manuscript using material evidence
    See "The Sussex Declaration: Dating the Parchment Manuscript Copy of the Declaration of Independence held at the West Sussex Record Office (Chichester, UK)" (https://tinyurl.com/sussexdeclaration), under final revision and preparation for publication at Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America.
     
  2. Determining who commissioned the parchment manuscript and why
    See "Golden Letters: James Wilson, the Declaration of Independence, and the Sussex Declaration" (https://tinyurl.com/sussexdec-wilson), currently under revision. Presented April 21, 2017, at a conference at Yale University, "Ideological Origins at 50: Power, Rights, and the Rise and Fall of Free States"; a revised version to be presented December 1, 2017, at a conference on James Wilson at Georgetown Law School.
     
  3. Identifying when and how the parchment manuscript moved from the United States to the United Kingdom
    Research currently in progress: The Sussex Declaration was possibly held by the Third Duke of Richmond (1735-1806). Known as the "Radical Duke" for his support of the Americans during the Revolution, his county seat is in Sussex in the UK. The parchment manuscript was deposited at the West Sussex Record Office with other papers from the Dukes of Richmond's law firm. The parchment is, however, American and, given its dating, is most likely to have been produced in New York or Philadelphia. While the parchment may have moved to the UK in the 1780s or 1790s, when the Third Duke could have received it, it is also possible that it moved to the UK only after 1836. An engraving was made from it, or from an identical text, in Boston in that year.
     

Download Sussex Declaration Paper by Allen and Sneff
Click to Download Paper on James Wilson and the Sussex Declaration

Which Version is This, and Why Does it Matter?

There is no singular authoritative version of the Declaration of Independence. Most Americans and many historians consider "the" Declaration of Independence to be the engrossed and signed parchment, on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The image that comes to mind when most people think of the Declaration of Independence is actually the William J. Stone engraving of the engrossed and signed parchment. Every few years, when the story of a newly discovered copy of the Declaration of Independence surfaces, the copy is often a Stone engraving, or even a reprint of the Stone engraving by Peter Force. There are also rare newspaper editions where the text is condensed to the front page or spread out over multiple columns, manuscripts of typically unknown origins, and broadsides representing a small fraction of the number that were printed and proclaimed in the summer of 1776. So, when you see a copy of the Declaration of Independence, how do you know what version it is? And, why does that matter?

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When and How did the Colonies Find Out about the Declaration?

Most Americans in the summer of 1776 learned the news of independence through newspapers, as well as broadsides and public readings. The first report of the Continental Congress declaring independence was published in The Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 2nd, followed by the text of the Declaration in the July 6th issue. Philadelphians would have learned about independence almost immediately, while New Yorkers found out three or four days later, Bostonians almost two weeks later, and South Carolinians almost a full month later. 

Map of Dissemination of Declaration of Independence

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Check out this animation of how the Declaration of Independence spread through the newspapers!

The Signers

Did you know Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence? Ever wondered why one signer's name was left off of many early printing of the Declaration? What were the signers really like?

Click here to learn more about the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This resource will be constantly updated with new materials. If you have a question about the signers, ask it here!

Timeline of Last Living Signers
 

The Declaration Today

Events, exhibitions, and news articles highlighting the Declaration of Independence in our world today

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