This month, the Declaration Resources Project is launching a new opportunity for teachers. We are asking How Do You Teach the Declaration of Independence? and incorporating teachers' responses into a new resources page on our website. One of the most popular ways to teach the Declaration of Independence is to introduce students to contextual materials, ranging from the works of Enlightenment thinkers to Thomas Jefferson's rough draft to What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? This is not a new trend; in fact, there is a tradition of printing the Declaration of Independence with other texts that dates back just about to July 4th. Sometimes these texts inform reading of the Declaration, and sometimes the Declaration informs reading of these other texts. In this research highlight, we present a sampling of the contextual print tradition of the Declaration of Independence.
Paired with Commentary
"The events which have given birth to this mighty revolution; and will vindicate the provisions that shall be wisely made against our ever again relapsing into a state of bondage and misery, cannot be better set forth than in the following Declaration of AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE."
Paired with History
"The colonists who had hitherto deferred the project of independency, which was suggested to them by the measures of the parliament, were now drive to this measure by the violent proceedings that have been already mentioned. They found that they were now to be persecuted with all the vengeance that the government could inflict, and that while they remained in a state of dependence upon Great Britain, no nation could afford them any assistance. They therefore came to a resolution to declare themselves independent states, and to renounce all allegiance to the British government, and all political connection with the mother country. In their declaration of independency they gave the reasons of their proceedings, and set forth to the world the grievances they had long complained of without being heard. Their own words will best shew their reasons and sentiments upon the subject."
After the war, and especially after the Constitution, broader histories of North America or the area that became the United States were published, with the Declaration of Independence included.
Paired with Founding Documents
Paired with Laws
In 1791, under the direction of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Laws of the United States of America were printed, and the Declaration of Independence found its way into these volumes. In Andrew Brown's edition, for example, the Declaration is included in the Appendix, "Containing such Acts of the Congress under the Confederation, as may be thought most important to be generally known in the administration of the present Government."
The Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and records of the Continental Congress were all in the Department of State at this time, and a note from Jefferson at the beginning of the volume certifies that each page has "been carefully collated by sworn clerks, with the original rolls deposited in the office of the Secretary of State, and have been rendered literally conformable therewith."
In the 1790s and well into the 19th century, the Declaration of Independence was also included in volumes of state laws.
Paired with Jefferson's Draft
Paired with Documents to Inspire Civic Agency
Paired with Other Pieces of Prose
"To TEACHERS.--It is presumed that every teacher is fully sensible how important a knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Political Definitions, is to all the citizens of the United States. It is, therefore, hoped and believed, that every teacher will require the scholars not only to read them as ordinary reading lessons, but that he will frequently question them, for the purpose of testing their knowledge of them, and to excite attention and inquiry."
So, how do you teach the Declaration of Independence? Share your story with us, and see it posted on our new resources page soon!
By Emily Sneff