Teachers are always looking for great idea starters that can help them formulate better and more interesting lesson plans. Today’s idea starter uses modern technology to do the impossible – it enables your students to sign the Declaration of Independence. Before they actually sign and print their own personal copy of the document, it is important that students understand more about its history and the risks the original 56 signers took when they affixed their own signatures. All of this is possible thanks to the Charters of Freedom Exhibit online at the National Archives website. Here you can download high resolution versions of the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights and get a better understanding of these all important American documents. There is a wonderful link called The Declaration of Independence: A History that contains information on where the document has traveled over the course of its lifetime, how it was copied and how it is preserved today. Also, be sure to visit the Declaration Timeline. You can learn more about the signers of the Declaration at the Signers Gallery and while you’re there, don’t miss the Signers Fact Sheet (PDF). There is also an excellent Declaration Facts link and not surprisingly, with the popularity of the movie National Treasure, the first question asked and answered there is “Is anything written on the back of the Declaration of Independence?” The answer to that question is Yes – more on that below.
In order for your students to sign the Declaration, have them click on the “sign the Declaration of Independence” link above. They will need to choose a printer type (color or black and white), and after a brief on screen introduction students can select the quill pen they prefer (each produces a different style of writing). Then have each student type their name into the box provided and click the Submit button. Now the most important part of all – up on the screen comes the following message: “Are you sure you want to sign the Declaration of Independence? If you had been a member of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, you were a rebel and considered a traitor by the King. You knew that a reward had been posted for the capture of certain prominent rebel leaders and the largest British armada ever assembled was just outside New York harbor. Affixing your name to the document meant that you pledged your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to the cause of freedom.” In order for your students to get a better feel for the pressure the members of the Second Continental Congress were feeling, view the video below called John Adams – Declaration of Independence from the HBO miniseries John Adams.
If your students elect to sign, each will view their own signature along with all the other signers on the Declaration of Independence. When they print the document, the following will appear along the bottom: “This image comes from William J. Stone’s 1823 copper plate engraving produced by direct impression from the original Declaration itself.” To learn more about the Stone engraving of the Declaration and see an original copy from 1823 view the video below called The Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776. The video features author, public speaker, and historic document and manuscript collector Stan Klos and items from his Rebels with a Vision exhibit. In this excellent video you will learn how the Stone engraving was produced and how long it took William J. Stone to engrave the copper plate. Your students will be stunned by the answer. Before I wrap up this post, let’s return to the back of the Declaration of Independence. The National Archives website tells us what is on the back – the words “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776”. I still cling to the hope that there is an invisible treasure map though – how about you? With that hope in mind, a link to the National Treasure trailer is listed below.
Video link: John Adams – Declaration of Independence (embedded above)
Video link: The Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776
Video link: National Treasure Trailer