The U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 by 56 members of the Continental Congress. John Hancock got to sign first with his huge signature because he was the President of the Congress. It’s commonly believed that John Hancock said, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” when he signed, referring to the King’s bad vision, but there’s no actual proof that he really said that.
The youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence (Edward Rutledge of South Carolina) was only 26-years-old and the oldest (Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania) was 70-years-old! Two of the signers would go on to be Presidents of the United States. They were John Adams (the 2nd President from Massachusetts) and Thomas Jefferson (the 3rd President from Virginia).
Most of the members of the Continental Congress had notable achievement of their own but their connections to other famed historical characters were often almost unbelievable! One of the best examples of this is Benjamin Harrison. Besides his intense involvement in the development and execution on the American Revolution, Harrison also was the Governor of Virginia from 1781-1784. He went on after that to be elected to the Virginia State Legislature and rose to the Speaker of the House!
But the really interesting stuff about Harrison that is so common with many Continental Congress members is not his great personal achievements. Harrison’s son was William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, and his great-grandson, Benjamin Harrison VI, was the 23rd President! Harrison’s father was also an ancestor of civil war General Robert E. Lee. The fellow who succeeded Harrison as the Governor of Virginia was Patrick Henry, famed for his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.
In any case, these wonderful characters from U.S. history have a nearly unlimited number of tantalizing stories that should make delightful reading for any history buff! Below find a list of all 56 Continental Congress members who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Robert Treat Paine
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Richard Henry Lee
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
The original Declaration of Independence is badly faded but it is on view in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in Washington, DC. There are also twenty-four copies of the Declaration that were printed by John Dunlap and are known today as “Dunlap Broadsides”.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in less than three weeks at the “Declaration House” located at 7th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The house was nearly new, built in 1775 and was rebuilt from original photographs in 1975. Jefferson often complained about the numerous houseflies that were coming from the stable across the street but soothed his soul after work each day at the City Tavern where he had an account! Jefferson took pride in his writing abilities and wasn’t thrilled when the Continental Congress made changes to “his” declaration in June of 1776.
The common U.S. citizen did not get to see the Declaration of Independence until July 6, 1776 when it was printed in the Pennsylvania Evening Post. It was then officially read to the public on July 8th in Philadelphia.
By the way, despite what you saw in the exciting 2004 and 2007 National Treasure movies, there is no mysterious message on the back of the Declaration of Independence. The only thing written on the back is “Original Declaration of Independence / dated 4th July 1776?. It was originally rolled up for storage and that was most likely written on the back so it could be identified without unrolling it.