Emily Sneff

Emily Sneff

Cincinnati and Barra FellowPh.D. Candidate, William & Mary

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When Independence was Declared: The Founding Document of the United States as Breaking News

Every copy of the Declaration of Independence produced in 1776 has a story to tell. My dissertation, “When Independence was Declared,” traces the Declaration’s journey through the United States and around the Atlantic world in the summer and fall of 1776. According to the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the text was disseminated for two purposes. Within the United States, the Declaration was published to create a national identity. Outside the United States, the Continental Congress hoped that the Declaration would create an international identity, encouraging other European powers to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation. But even as Congress relied on news networks to spread the text of the Declaration across the states, they underestimated the pace and course of transatlantic news networks. European reception of the news of independence was mediated by London printers who excerpted, censored, and manipulated the text, and printed it alongside rumors and false reports. Meanwhile, based on a text which included a slur against them, Indigenous representatives were the first to acknowledge the United States as independent and treaty-worthy. “When Independence was Declared” is not the story of a parchment signed in Independence Hall, but rather dozens of stories of ephemeral copies of the Declaration swirling around the Atlantic, carried to characters familiar to the traditional story of the founding, as well as to new and unexpected people and places.