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


Reimer Eck*

German Language Printing in the American Colonies up to the Declaration of lndependence (part 3)



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III. German Language Printing and the Revolution: Christopher Sauer II, Henrich Miller, Melchior Steiner & Carl Cist

Christopher Sauer the Elder died in 1758 and his son of the same name took over the German printing house from his father. The younger Sauer had learned the trade in his father's shop and he was a member of the Baptist Brethren and served the community as one of its ministers. His publishing program remained as religious, sober and conservative as his father's had been. He added a paper mill to the meanwhile very prosperous Sauer enterprise and he was the first colonial printer to cast printing-type in the colonies, most probably from imported matrices.

In the year 1762, a new and effective competitor to the Sauer enterprise arose, when Henrich Miller founded his new German printing office in Philadelphia. Through his German newspaper and other publications Miller gradually gained influence on the German readership in the colonies. Before opening the new shop in Philadelphia Henrich Miller had crossed the Atlantic several times. He had worked for Benjamin Franklin in 1741 and again from 1752 to 1753 as journeyman printer on publications in German. After a second longer sojourn as traveling printer in Europe he finally managed to procure printer's equipment for both languages, English and German, and to settle in Philadelphia, where beginning in January 1762, he published a new independent German newspaper, the "Wöchentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote", later called proudly "Henrich Millers Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote". It is Henrich Miller, who gave the German population of the Middle Colonies the opportunity to learn about and to participate in the various political controversies that would gradually lead to independence. He printed in German Jonathan Dickinson's and Joseph Galloway's speeches in Assembly on the change of government in Pennsylvania in 1764, he printed a German version of Benjamin Franklin's interview before the House of Commons concerning the Repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, and from 1774 on he practically served as official German printer for the First Continental Congress by repeatedly publishing its minutes and votes in German. Even more important was his newspaper, the "Staatsbote" that had his German readers participate in the dramatic development in the colonies. At the same time Miller was well aware of the important role a free press should play during times of political struggle, and he never tired of informing his readers about the importance of this institution. Also Christopher Sauer in his "Germantowner Zeitung" had taken side against Britain during the Stamp-Act Crisis, but when the course of events led more and more towards armed revolution he had to make amends to the pacifistic convictions of the Brethren and to stay free from radical positions in his publications. This led later to Sauer's being accused as a loyalist and Congress put him under orders to abstain from printing and his whole property was confiscated and put up for auction for the public benefit. His successor, Christopher Sauer III, then actually joined the British side and served as printer to the occupation army in Philadelphia and New York.

In 1776, the difference in political allegation between the two established German presses became evident: while Sauer printed a decisive call for peace and to abstain from armed resistance issued by the Quaker community, Miller printed a pro-congressional pamphlet directed at the German inhabitants under the title "Der Alarm", the Minutes of the Constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania and the Regulations for the Pennsylvania Militia in German. At the same time the two shops maintained their usual production. Both printed their annual almanacs, Sauer a full German Bible and a Bible for children and a prayer book, and Miller printed at least one Psalm for the Moravians, whose small liturgical pamphlets he had printed for quite a number of years.

In spring of the same year, a new German printing office had come forward with the publication of one of the most radical and influential political pamphlets of the revolution, that is Thomas Paine's Common Sense published under the German title "Gesunde Vernunft" by Melchior Steiner and Carl Cist of Philadelphia. In January 1776, Henrich Miller had announced this German translation in the "Staatsbote", and soon Steinen and Cist would share in the task of informing the Germans of the patriots' cause. From 1776 onwards, Steinen and Cist did a considerable printing business both for the Pennsylvania Assembly and for the Continental Congress as the records and journals of both parliamentary bodies show. Of particular interest in this context would be a German printing of the minutes of the Constitutional Assembly of Pennsylvania in 1776 and a German language pro-revolutionary address to the New Yorkers in 1777. Thus it comes as no surprise, that they printed the broadside of the Declaration of lndependence in German that is on display here. Their printing record and their business connections even suggest that they might have produced it by Order of Congress or the Pennsylvania Assembly, although no definite proof exists. What the rare broadside proves is how closely the Germans were involved with the revolutionary developments by means of the printing press: On July 3rd, Christoph Sauer had informed his readers in the Germantowner Zeitung that Congress had adopted a resolution to declare independence. On July 5th, Henrich Miller announced in the Staatsbote that independence had been declared; we may assume that Steinen and Cist published their broadside on July 8th and Henrich Miller followed with his printing of the Declaration on July 9th in his newspaper. The German-language press in the colonies had come a long way from the first sectarian publications of the German printing pioneers. But now a well-informed majority of the Germans in the former colonies would make its contribution to the fight for independence.


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* Special Subject Librarian (Anglo-American language and literature), Project Manager at the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, co-editor of the bibliography "The First Century of German Language Printing in the United States of America"



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