Declaration of Independence

FORCE Peter (1848 [1833])


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Broadside, framed & glazed. Measuring approx 750 by 640mm, two faint old folds. Washington, D.C.: St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force,

The second edition of the most accurate and beautiful early printing of the founding document of the United States.


The copper plate for this printing was commissioned in 1820 by William Stone under the sponsorship of the Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, who was keen to create a facsimile of the original engrossed document, which was already beginning to show signs of deterioration. This was a sagacious course of action, as the engrossed copy continued to suffer through wear, exposure to sunlight and poor restoration, so much so that it is now barely legible. Indeed, even by 1894 an account of the document by "Andrew Hussey Allen, chief of the Bureau of Rolls and Library mentioned that the signatures of the Signers of the Declaration had 'with few exceptions vanished; and so the value of the copperplate is inestimably enhanced'" (McGirr, 57).


The accuracy of Stone's reproduction however is possibly due to his use of a wet ink transfer process, to essentially print an impression of the moistened engrossed copy directly onto his plate using its own ink. This, controversially, may well have hastened the deterioration.


Stone's copper plate was completed in 1823 and 200 copies were printed on vellum. This exact facsimile is the source for most subsequent reproductions of the Declaration.


In 1833 Peter Force received authorisation from Congress to reuse the plate to produce this printing of the Declaration as part of his American Archives which published, often for the first time, texts from the founding of the nation. Stone invoiced Force on 21st July 1833 for 4000 copies, indicating that he anticipated subscription and sales to run to this level. This also indicates that whilst they were not issued with the published work until 1848, these impressions were printed fifteen years previously in 1833. Progress on the project was slow, and by the time the first volume of the fourth series was published in 1837, the subscription had been scaled back to just 500 copies. Force intended his American Archives series to run to 20 volumes, but in fact only completed nine [Ser. IV, v 1-6; Ser. V, v 1-3]. This facsimile was included, folded, in Volume 1 of Series 5, published in 1848. 


The multi-talented Force, was an archivist, editor, historian and politician. He also served in the War of 1812. He is best known for American Archives which he operated for twenty years, until it was cancelled in 1853 by then Secretary of State William Marcy. Force's collection was subsequently sold to the Library of Congress.


Newman F. McGirr, 'The Activities of Peter Force' in Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. Vol. 42/43, DC History Center (1940/1941), pp. 35-82 

Stock Code: 62678

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