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Arts & Culture

Yale Hosts Reading Of Rare Copy Of Declaration Of Independence

Lauren Smith
Connecticut Public Radio
A copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed on July 4, 1776 by John Dunlap in Philadelphia, and now held at the Beinecke Library at Yale

If you’ve been inspired by recent Fourth of July celebrations, you don’t have to travel outside of Connecticut to encounter some of the original history of Independence Day.

The Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University currently has on display the Dunlap Broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence. The document is one of 26 known surviving copies of an estimated 200 printed by John Dunlap on July 4, 1776. 

Dunlap was the Irish printer based in Philadelphia, who held the printing contract with the Continental Congress -- he was tasked by John Hancock to produce the very first published versions of the Declaration.

Recently, the upper mezzanine of the library was packed with people who had come to hear a reading of the Declaration and to view the exhibition. Curator of Western Americana, George Miles delivered the words of our country’s founding document with a measured, calm inflection.

“...that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he intoned.

Afterwards, Miles remarked how he was struck by the way Thomas Jefferson’s words transported him and he tried to imagine how he would have felt reading those words in Philadelphia in 1776.

The audience also heard the words of statesman Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a leader in the Abolitionist movement.

The Frederick Douglass 1852 Oration titled What to the slave is the Fourth of July? was read aloud by library staff and community members. Babz Rawls Ivy reads with fervor the text of Psalm 137 which was a centerpiece of Douglass’ speech and has served as inspiration for oppressed and subjugated people throughout time.

“For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

Credit Lauren Smith / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Rare documents held at the Beinecke which also featured at the recent reading.

This is the third year the library has put on the display and the reading event around Independence Day, according to Beineke communications officer Michael Morand.

As well as the Frederick Douglass passage, it’s paired with a reading from the first Women’s Rights convention, and with a text by New Haven resident William Grimes, who wrote the first narrative by someone who had escaped from slavery.

“These are documents that show that history is alive and that the work to make a more perfect union continued throughout time and continues to our time,” said Morand. The exhibition is free and open to the public and continues through July 11.

Arts & Culture historyThe Daily

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