June 11, 1776:
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston appointed to a committee to draft a declaration of independence.
June 12-27, 1776:
Jefferson, at the request of the committee, drafts a declaration, of which only a fragment exists. Jefferson’s clean, or “fair” copy, the “original Rough draught,” is reviewed by the committee. Both documents are in the manuscript collections of the Library of Congress.
June 28, 1776:
A fair copy of the committee draft of the Declaration of Independence is read in Congress.
July 1-4, 1776:
Congress debates and revises the Declaration of Independence.
July 2, 1776:
Congress declared the sovereign status of the United Colonies the following day, during the late afternoon of July 2 as the British fleet and army arrive at New York. The Committee of the Whole then turned to the Declaration, and it was given a second reading before adjournment.
July 3, 1776:
The Committee of the Whole gave the Declaration a third reading and commenced scrutiny of the precise wording of the proposed text. Two passages in the Committee of Five’s draft were rejected by the Committee of the Whole. One was a critical reference to the English people and the other was a denunciation of the slave trade and of slavery itself. The text of the Declaration was otherwise accepted without any other major changes.
July 4, 1776:
Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence in the late morning (around 11:00 am LMT) on a bright, sunny, but cool Philadelphia day. After the final vote by the Committee of the Whole, the draft document was then referred back to the Committee of Five in order to prepare a fair copy document to be redrafted-as-corrected for delivery to the broadside printer. And so convened later in the day to complete the task. The final redraft of the fair copy document was signed by John Hancock who was was president of the Continental Congress (around 2:00 pm LMT)* and was sent a few blocks away to the printing shop of John Dunlap.
Dunlap was an Irish immigrant then 29 years old, who was tasked with the job; he apparently spent much of the night of July 4 setting type, correcting it, and running off the broadside sheets. Through the night, Dunlap printed about 200 broadsides for distribution. These prints are now called “Dunlap Broadsides.” Twenty-four copies are known to exist, two of which are in the Library of Congress. One of these was Washington’s personal copy.
“There is evidence it was done quickly, and in excitement—watermarks are reversed, some copies look as if they were folded before the ink could dry and bits of punctuation move around from one copy to another,” according to Ted Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties: America and the World. “It is romantic to think that Benjamin Franklin, the greatest printer of his day, was there in Dunlap’s shop to supervise, and that Jefferson, the nervous author, was also close at hand.” John Adams later wrote that, “We were all in haste.”
July 5, 1776:
John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, dispatches the first of Dunlap’s broadsides of the Declaration of Independence to the legislatures of New Jersey and Delaware.
July 6, 1776:
Pennsylvania Evening Post of July 6 prints the first newspaper rendition of the Declaration of Independence.
July 8, 1776:
The first public reading of the Declaration is in Philadelphia.
July 9, 1776:
Washington orders that the Declaration of Independence be read before the American army in New York
July 19, 1776:
Congress orders the Declaration of Independence engrossed (officially inscribed) and signed by members.
* Biography: Herbert S. Alan, “John Hancock, Patriot in Purple,” 1940, p.228, “At last, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the 4th, the great white paper was reported … and immediately ratified.”
Note: President Gerald Ford decreed that the bicentennial celebration on 1976 would be held on July 4, 1976 and the ringing of the bells would occur at 2:00 PM.