Signing Differential

Articles of Confederation signature page.

The signing of America’s three organic documents of the Founding era have a superficial similarity but differ significantly from each other. The signers of the engrossed manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution all placed their signatures grouped together by their state delegations arranged geographically north to south in two columns, starting with New Hampshire in the right-hand column and ending with Georgia in the left-hand column—the order in which all votes were recorded in Congress and in the Constitutional Convention. (An exception to this right-to-left arrangement of the columns occurred with the signatures affixed to the Articles of Association adopted by the First Continental Congress on 20 October 1774 in which the Northern State delegations started signing in the left-hand column.)

The actions taken by the signers, however, differ as they affixed their names. In signing the Declaration of Independence, each delegate to Congress individually voted for independence. In signing the Articles of Confederation, each delegate merely officially confirmed that their state legislature had indeed adopted the Articles. The phrase “on the part and behalf of” their particular state followed by the date of signing was attached to each state delegation’s signatures by a brace.

Finally, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention approved an attestation clause that stated that the signers “subscribed” their names as witnesses to the unanimity of the states in the Convention in approving the proposed Constitution. The delegates themselves took no official position on the Constitution by signing their names. (A similar attestation clause preceded the signatures to the 1774 Articles of Association.)