How did soldiers who fought in the American Revolution experience the Declaration of Independence? Few would have read it, but most would have heard it ... and they would have heard it as an invitation to martyrdom.
Here's a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book:
Soldiers under Washington’s command near New York were also taught to revere the Declaration of Independence, with its rousing conclusion calling on fellow patriots to seal their commitment to the patriot cause. As Pauline Maier tells the story, on July 9, 1776, Washington “ordered officers of the several Continental Army brigades stationed in New York City to pick up copies of the Declaration at the Adjutant General’s Office.” Then, “with the British ‘constantly in view, upon and at State-Island,’ as one participant recalled, the brigades were ‘formed in hollow squares on their respective parades,’ where they heard the Declaration read, as the General had specified, ‘with an audible voice.’ The event, Washington hoped, would ‘serve as a free incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage.’” The hope expressed by Washington was not without foundation. Whether Captain Nathan Hale read the Declaration out loud to soldiers under his command or whether he heard it read out loud by one of his commanding officers, or both, the declaration’s closing flourish would have packed a powerful punch—“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” It was the public declaration of a willingness to die for the sacred cause of American independence.