Add your John Hancock online

The National Archives inaugurated an interactive Web site Tuesday that enables individuals to add their signatures to the Declaration of Independence and then print out copies of the historic document.

And while they're online at the Join the Signers section of the Archives' Web site, (www.archives.gov), agency officials hope visitors also will sign a check or a credit card receipt donating money to a National Archives fund-raising effort.

The Web site is an Archives effort to make the "charters of freedom" — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — available online even though the original documents will be temporarily taken off display at the National Archives rotunda in Washington, D.C. The rotunda is to be closed July 5 through 2003 for renovations.

Signing the declaration online is a bit more complicated than taking up quill and ink, as the nation's founders did in 1776.

It may take up to two minutes to download a printable copy of the declaration using a 56 kilobits/sec modem, according to the Archives. And unless you already have it, you will also have to download and install a free copy of Macromedia Inc.'s Flash 5.0 player.

Ready to sign? "Wait," the Archives cautions. "Before you actually sign, you may want to think about the consequences of signing such a radical document. The 56 brave men who signed in 1776 suffered hardship, financial loss — some even had their homes destroyed. They were pursued by the British and threatened with treason."

More information about the signers and the history of the Declaration of Independence is available in a part of the site called The Signers Gallery.

Modern-day signers of the declaration can choose type fonts and have the option of printing out a copy in color or black and white. One font makes your signature appear large and bold like John Hancock's; another will be smaller, but firm, like Ben Franklin's.

By posting the Declaration of Independence and other documents online, the Archives hopes to provide a broader constituency with a better understanding of U.S. history, Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said.

The agency hopes the fund-raising feature on the site (Make Your Signature Count) will help collect the $27 million needed to renovate a theater, restore murals and preserve permanent exhibits during the Archives' building renovation.

The Web site also features a Charters of Freedom sales catalog where shoppers can place orders for copies of documents ranging from the Constitution to George Washington's inaugural address, books, teaching kits, framed documents and other items.

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