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First reading of the Declaration of Independence


By Continental Congress -, Public Domain,
By Diane Larson

On the afternoon of July 8, 1776, the echoes of a massive 2,000-pound copper-and-tin bell rang out across the land from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House. The ring was meant to summon its citizens to the State House yard for a public reading.


The Pennsylvania State House, now known at Independence Hall in Philadelphia was the home of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. The chimes of the Liberty Bell on that day would be known as its most famous ring.


Earlier in the week, on July 2, according to, “Congress declares independence.” Two days later on the 4, “Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence in the morning of a bright, sunny, but cool Philadelphia day.”


The document was printed and dispersed and on the 8th the document would be read aloud.


Once a crowd had gathered, at noon on July 8, 1776, Colonel John Nixon stood in the State House yard and read publicly the Declaration of Independence. According to the National Park Service website, following the reading and long into the night bells rang out in celebrations. 


In 1775, Thomas Jefferson, known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, had the following to say about the idea of Independence, “Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.”


When the Declaration was adopted the colonies had been at war with Great Britain for more than a year. The first sentence reads:


“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.”



Today, more than 200 years later, it remains an important statement on, among other things, human rights, which is evident in these words,


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


To seal, the final sentence:


“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine

Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”


Even though the first public reading happened on the July 8th and the voted occurred on the 2nd, it is the day of ratification on the 4th that we continue to celebrate in America. Interestingly, at the time, John Adams thought that the day of the vote, July 2nd would be the day of future celebrations, he wrote to his wife Abigail, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.”

*Second photo: By Jean Leon Gerome Ferris - Public Domain,

*Third photo: By Rdsmith4 - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,


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