the document in different resolutions

From the collection of the Deutsches Historisches Museum:

First Printing in German of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4, 1776


Willi Paul Adams *

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America (part 4)


view pamphlet by Thomas Jefferson


view pamphlet by Thomas Paine

IV. Declaring Independence

Responsibility for drafting a comprehensive justification of independence was delegated by the Continental Congress on June 17, 1776, to a committee of five that represented various regions and political persuasions. Its chairman was Thomas Jefferson, thirty-three-year-old attorney and plantation owner from Virginia, whose pamphlet A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774) had qualified him as an outstanding writer and radical thinker. On Friday, June 18, 1776 Jefferson presented the handwritten draft to the president of the Congress. It was almost entirely his work, as edited and approved by the other committee members, among them Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. The Congress discussed and edited the draft line by line on July 2, 3 and 4. On Thursday afternoon, July 4, the revised draft was accepted by twelve delegations; New York's delegation did not vote.

The Printer John Dunlap, who regularly worked for the Continental Congress, under Jefferson's supervision produced the broadside that pro vided the text for the German translation Melchior Steiner, Carl Cist and Henrich Miller soon published. Miller, Dunlap's German- and English-speaking professional colleague, who had advocated colonial rights since 1762, announced in the Friday, July 5, issue of his Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote in capital letters: "Yesterday the honorable Continental Congress declared the United Colonies free and independent states. The declaration is now in press in English; it is dated July 4, 1776, and will be published today or tomorrow." Miller did not announce preparation of the German-language broadside, whose exact date of publication and translator(s) we do not know. In the next issue of his Staatsbote on Tuesday, July 9, Miller presented on the most impressive front page he ever produced the translation of the Declaration of lndependence. Miller's newspaper text and the text of the Steiner & Cist broadside are almost identical. Both break the text into two columns, except for the impressive headlines. The German broadside is, therefore, closer to newspaper layout than to Dunlap's single-column poster. Perhaps Miller, Steiner and Cist began by preparing the translation for the newspaper and decided only on July 8, after witnessing the public reading of the English text, that the proclamation of independence the Continental Congress had called for throughout the land required also a German-language poster and that providing it might be profitable. Like Dunlap, Miller also saw the importance of the public proclamation, the declaration as a speech act, and described in detail the scene of the public reading at Philadelphia in the Tuesday issue of the Staatsbote on July 9, 1776:

"Yesterday at noon, the Declaration of Independence, which is published on this newspaper's front page, was publicly proclaimed in English from an elevated platform in the courtyard of the State House. Thereby the United Colonies of North America were absolved from all previously pledged allegiance to the king of Great Britain, they are and henceforth will be totally free and independent. The proclamation was read by Colonel Nixon, sheriff Dewees stood by his side and many members of the Congress, of the [Pennsylvania] Assembly, generals and other high army officers were also present. Several thousand people were in the courtyard to witness the solemn occasion. After the reading of the Declaration there were three cheers and the cry: God bless the free states of North America! To this every true friend of these colonies can only say, Amen. "

On Tuesday, 9th of July 1776, the German translation of the American Declaration of Independence appeared in Henrich Miller's "Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote".

Similar proclamations took place in many communities and before Washington's troops in the following weeks. We have no reports about the readings of the German-language broadside. But its very existence, the prominent printing of the text in the Staatsbote, the distribution of other political texts in German - such as Paine's Common Sense, the minutes of the Pennsylvania legislature that Miller translated and published in commission and, a decade later, the printing in 1787 of 3500 copies of the translated Constitution of the United States in Pennsylvania alone - document that the one third of Pennsylvanians who in 1776 spoke only or also German could well participate in the period's great political debate in their mother tongue. It is, however, a nineteenth-century legend that there ever was a referendum or vote on making German the official language of Pennsylvania, let alone the United States.

The Declaration of lndependence, engrossed on parchment and with the addition of "unanimous" in the title, was laid on the table of the Continental Congress only on August 2, 1776. Then the New Yorkers and other delegates who had been absent on July 4 also added their signatures.

view State House. later Independence Hall
view German version in Miller's Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote

* professor at the John-F.-Kennedy-Institut für Nordamerika Studien at the Freie Universität Berlin, i.a. editor of Fischer Weltgeschichtsband "Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika" (1977) and of the dtv-Band "Die Amerikanische Revolution und die Verfassung" (1987) and together with Angela Adams translator of "Le Federaliste" by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1994)



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