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Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was the first formal statement by a nation’s people asserting their right to choose their own government.

When armed conflict between bands of American colonists and British soldiers began in April 1775, the Americans were ostensibly fighting only for their rights as subjects of the British crown. By the following summer, with the Revolutionary War in full swing, the movement for independence from Britain had grown, and delegates of the Continental Congress were faced with a vote on the issue. In mid-June 1776, a five-man committee including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin was tasked with drafting a formal statement of the colonies’ intentions. The Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence—written largely by Jefferson—in Philadelphia on July 4, a date now celebrated as the birth of American independence.

America Before the Declaration of Independence

Even after the initial battles in the Revolutionary War broke out, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did–like John Adams– were considered radical. Things changed over the course of the next year, however, as Britain attempted to crush the rebels with all the force of its great army. In his message to Parliament in October 1775, King George III railed against the rebellious colonies and ordered the enlargement of the royal army and navy. News of his words reached America in January 1776, strengthening the radicals’ cause and leading many conservatives to abandon their hopes of reconciliation. That same month, the recent British immigrant Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” in which he argued that independence was a “natural right” and the only possible course for the colonies; the pamphlet sold more than 150,000 copies in its first few weeks in publication.

In March 1776, North Carolina’s revolutionary convention became the first to vote in favor of independence; seven other colonies had followed suit by mid-May. On June 7, the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence before the Continental Congress when it met at the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in Philadelphia. Amid heated debate, Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s resolution and called a recess for several weeks. Before departing, however, the delegates also appointed a five-man committee–including Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York–to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain. That document would become known as the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson Writes the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson had earned a reputation as an eloquent voice for the patriotic cause after his 1774 publication of “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” and he was given the task of producing a draft of what would become the Declaration of Independence. As he wrote in 1823, the other members of the committee “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections….I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.”

As Jefferson drafted it, the Declaration of Independence was divided into five sections, including an introduction, a preamble, a body (divided into two sections) and a conclusion. In general terms, the introduction effectively stated that seeking independence from Britain had become “necessary” for the colonies. While the body of the document outlined a list of grievances against the British crown, the preamble includes its most famous passage: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The Continental Congress Votes for Independence

The Continental Congress reconvened on July 1, and the following day 12 of the 13 colonies adopted Lee’s resolution for independence. The process of consideration and revision of Jefferson’s declaration (including Adams’ and Franklin’s corrections) continued on July 3 and into the late morning of July 4, during which Congress deleted and revised some one-fifth of its text. The delegates made no changes to that key preamble, however, and the basic document remained Jefferson’s words. Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence later on the Fourth of July (though most historians now accept that the document was not signed until August 2).

The Declaration of Independence became a significant landmark in the history of democracy. In addition to its importance in the fate of the fledgling American nation, it also exerted a tremendous influence outside the United States, most memorably in France during the French Revolution. Together with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence can be counted as one of the three essential founding documents of the United States government.

READ MORE: Why Was the Declaration of Independence Written?


Declaration of Independence Timeline

June 7, 1776
Richard Henry Lee of VA puts forth the resolution for independence.

June 10, 1776
Consideration of the resolution is postponed till July 1 (so moderates could build a coalition)

June 11, 1776
Revolutionaries persuade Congress to appoint a committee to draft a declaration of independence. The committee consisted of John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Thomas Jefferson (VA), Roger Sherman (CT), and Robert R. Livingston (NY). Jefferson takes the lead on the project. Adams and Franklin make a few edits. Jefferson’s rough draft is in the Library of Congress.

July 1, 1776
Vote on the resolution for independence. Nine colonies vote for it, 2 against it (PA and SC), 1 abstained (NY), and one was deadlocked (DE). Vote to be retaken the next day.

July 2, 1776
12 of the 13 colonies vote for the resolution, with NY abstaining. Congress declares the resolution to be in effect.

July 2-4, 1776
Congress debates the content of the Declaration of Independence.

July 4, 1776
Congress approves the Declaration of Independence and orders it printed. Philadelphia printer John Dunlap prints about 200 copies. Fewer than 30 survive today.

July 19, 1776
Congress ordered the Declaration engrossed for signatures. Title is changed from “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress Assembled” to “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.”

August 2, 1776
Declaration signed by (most likely) 50 of the 56 signers. Five more signed later in 1776. Thomas McKean, the 56 th signer, signed sometime after January 1777. There is only one handwritten, signed Declaration of Independence. It is on display in the National Archives in Washington D.C.

January 18, 1777
Congress authorizes the printing of the Declaration with the names of the signers (first time names of signers are printed.


The Declaration of Independence: How Did it Happen?

In the early 1770s, more and more colonists became convinced that Parliament intended to take away their freedom. In fact, the Americans saw a pattern of increasing oppression and corruption happening all around the world. Parliament was determined to bring its unruly American subjects to heel. Britain began to prepare for war in early 1775. The first fighting broke out in April in Massachusetts. In August, the King declared the colonists “in a state of open and avowed rebellion.” For the first time, many colonists began to seriously consider cutting ties with Britain. The publication of Thomas Paine’s stirring pamphlet Common Sense in early 1776 lit a fire under this previously unthinkable idea. The movement for independence was now in full swing.

A Proclamation by the King for Supressing Rebellion and Sedition, August 23, 1775

National Archives, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention.

The official portrait of King George III by Johann Zofanny, 1771

Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust

Choosing Independence

The colonists elected delegates to attend a Continental Congress that eventually became the governing body of the union during the Revolution. Its second meeting convened in Philadelphia in 1775. The delegates to Congress adopted strict rules of secrecy to protect the cause of American liberty and their own lives. In less than a year, most of the delegates abandoned hope of reconciliation with Britain. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution “that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.” They appointed a Committee of Five to write an announcement explaining the reasons for independence. Thomas Jefferson, who chaired the committee and had established himself as a bold and talented political writer, wrote the first draft.

The Agreement of Secrecy, November 9, 1775

National Archives, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention

The Lee Resolution

The Dunlap Broadside, July 4, 1776

National Archives, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention

Writing the Declaration

On June 11, 1776, Jefferson holed up in his Philadelphia boarding house and began to write. He borrowed freely from existing documents like the Virginia Declaration of Rights and incorporated accepted ideals of the Enlightenment. Jefferson later explained that “he was not striving for originality of principal or sentiment.” Instead, he hoped his words served as an “expression of the American mind.” Less than three weeks after he’d begun, he presented his draft to Congress. He was not pleased when Congress “mangled” his composition by cutting and changing much of his carefully chosen wording. He was especially sorry they removed the part blaming King George III for the slave trade, although he knew the time wasn’t right to deal with the issue.

Declaring Independence

On July 2, 1776, Congress voted to declare independence. Two days later, it ratified the text of the Declaration. John Dunlap, official printer to Congress, worked through the night to set the Declaration in type and print approximately 200 copies. These copies, known as the Dunlap Broadsides, were sent to various committees, assemblies, and commanders of the Continental troops. The Dunlap Broadsides weren’t signed, but John Hancock’s name appears in large type at the bottom. One copy crossed the Atlantic, reaching King George III months later. The official British response scolded the “misguided Americans” and “their extravagant and inadmissable Claim of Independency”.


Text of the Declaration of Independence

Note: The source for this transcription is the first printing of the Declaration of Independence, the broadside produced by John Dunlap on the night of July 4, 1776. Nearly every printed or manuscript edition of the Declaration of Independence has slight differences in punctuation, capitalization, and even wording. To find out more about the diverse textual tradition of the Declaration, check out our Which Version is This, and Why Does it Matter? resource.

WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—-That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.
He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People.
He has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.
He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance.
He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.
He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.
Nor have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them from Time to Time of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our Connections and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace, Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. 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.

Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress,
JOHN HANCOCK, President.


10g. The Declaration of Independence

The moment had finally come. Far too much bad blood existed between the colonial leaders and the crown to consider a return to the past. More and more colonists felt deprived by the British not only of their money and their civil liberties, but their lives as well. Bloodshed had begun over a year ago and there seemed little chance of a ceasefire. The radical wing of the Continental Congress was gaining strength with each passing day. It was time for a formal break with mother England. It was time to declare independence.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution to the Congress that declared the thirteen colonies "free and independent states." Congress did not act on the resolution immediately. A vote was set for early July. In the meantime it seemed appropriate that some sort of explanation was in order for such a bold act. A subcommittee of five, including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson , was selected to choose the careful wording. Such a document must be persuasive to a great many parties. Americans would read this and join the patriot cause. Sympathetic Britons would read this and urge royal restraint. Foreign powers would read this and aid the colonial militia. They might, that is, if the text were convincing. The five agreed that Jefferson was the most talented writer. They would advise on his prose.

The declaration is divided into three main parts. The first was a simple statement of intent. Jefferson's words echo down through the decades of American life until the present day. Phrases like " all men are created equal ," "unalienable rights," and "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" have bounced from the lips of Americans in grammar school and retirement. All are contained in the first section that outlines the basic principles of the enlightened leaders. The next section is a list of grievances that is, why the colonies deemed independence appropriate. King George was guilty of "repeated injuries" that intended to establish " absolute tyranny " in North America. He has "plundered our seas, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people." It was difficult for Americans to argue his points. The concluding paragraph officially dissolves ties with Britain. It also shows modern readers the courage taken by each delegate who would sign. They were now officially guilty of treason and would hang in the gallows if taken before a royal court. Thus, they would "pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

Debate in the Congress followed. Jefferson watched painfully as the other delegates tweaked his prose. Jefferson had wanted to include a passage blaming the king for the slave trade, for example, but the southern delegates insisted upon its removal. Finally on July 4, 1776, the colonies approved the document. The vote was twelve to zero, with the New York delegation abstaining. As president of the Congress, John Hancock scrawled his famous signature across the bottom and history was made. If the American effort was successful, they would be hailed as heroes. If it failed, they would be hanged as traitors.


The Declaration of Independence

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. &mdashThat to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, &mdashThat whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. &mdashSuch has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount an payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. &mdashAnd 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.

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton


The Great Declaration

By the end of 1775, the military conflicts with Great Britain increased the eagerness of many Patriots to declare their independence, but many other colonists, including influential members of the Second Continental Congress, were wary about breaking completely from the Crown. The ties to England remained strong for many Americans and the thought of losing their political and commercial connections to one of the world’s most powerful nations seemed irrational to them.

Many colonists believed that a rebellion would change their lives for the worse. They were familiar with the living conditions under British rule and feared the unknown. The upper class in America did not want to lose their status in society and grew concerned about how average Americans would react to independence. In addition, many colonists wondered if common people could actually govern themselves.

In early 1776, two significant events propelled the colonies toward severing relations with Britain. First, the pamphlet Common Sense was published in January. Thomas Paine wrote the political piece criticizing King George III. While colonial leaders crafted gracious and humble petitions to persuade the king to ease Britain’s control over the colonies, Paine bluntly called George III a “Royal Brute” who was unworthy of Americans’ respect. The pamphlet encouraged colonists to break free from England and start a new independent and democratic society. Paine argued that the concept of an island ruling a continent defied natural law. “We have it in our power to begin the world again,” he insisted.

Reaction to Common Sense was overwhelming. Paine’s diatribe put into words the thoughts of many Americans. Even members of the Continental Congress accepted Paine’s call to action by urging states to form governments and write their own statements of independence.

The following month, Congress learned of the Prohibitory Act, closing all colonial ports and defining resistance to the Crown as treason. Congress responded by authorizing privateers to operate against British shipping. Additionally, Americans discovered that the British government was hiring foreign mercenaries to crush the colonies. Ultimately, nearly thirty thousand German-speaking soldiers, collectively called “Hessians” because the majority hailed from Hesse-Kassel, fought in the Revolutionary War. Many colonists associated mercenaries with radical and illicit behavior including looting and torture. The potential for such cruelty toward Americans, many colonists concluded, doomed the possibility of a peaceful reconciliation. In April, Congress opened American ports to international trade. By that time, several revolutionary state governments were committed to independence from Great Britain.

On June 7, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced to the Continental Congress a resolution: “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” He further called “for forming foreign Alliances and preparing a plan of confederation.” Lee’s resolution announced America’s break from England, but members of Congress believed a more formal explanation was needed to unify the colonies, secure foreign assistance, and justify their actions to the world. Delegates from the middle colonies, however, were reluctant to support the separation from the mother country and postponed a vote on Lee’s resolution.

In the meantime, Congress appointed a committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson to prepare a formal declaration. The committee selected Jefferson, the youngest member of the Continental Congress and the delegate who received the most votes in the selection process, to write the first draft. Jefferson spent the next two weeks writing. The committee refined and edited the manuscript before submitting a final version to the Congress on June 28.

Several ideas Jefferson included in the Declaration of Independence to justify the American Revolution were not new. John Adams, in particular, claimed that Congress frequently discussed the concepts outlined in the document. Additionally, many of the terms incorporated by Jefferson derived from proclamations of independence previously issued by several colonial governments. Jefferson admitted that it was not his task to invent new principles or arguments, but rather the Declaration was intended be an expression of the American mind.

In the preamble, Jefferson referred to the “natural rights” of humankind popularized by Enlightenment thinkers, including philosopher John Locke’s call for “the right to life, liberty, and property”—the last of which Jefferson changed to “the pursuit of happiness.” He also incorporated Locke’s contention that people have the right to overthrow their government when it abuses their fundamental rights.

In a direct attack on George III, Jefferson provided a lengthy list of the king’s violations of American rights. He accused King George of imposing taxes on colonists without their consent, and blamed him for the existence of slavery in America—although Congress deleted that allegation from the final document.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress unanimously passed Lee’s resolution to declare American independence from British rule. The delegation from New York, which represented a large population of loyalists who did not want to break all ties with England, abstained from voting. The Continental Congress spent the next two days debating and amending the Declaration of Independence. The delegates focused primarily on the list of grievances, cutting Jefferson’s harsh assault on the British people for backing the king and eliminating about one-fourth of the original wording. The Declaration, the delegates believed, should explain and justify American independence in a gentlemanly manner.

On the Fourth of July, the delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence. By defying the king and declaring their independence, the Patriots became rebels subject to the penalties for treason. The American revolutionaries realized that unity was imperative to their success. “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” vowed Benjamin Franklin. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The Declaration of Independence did not immediately garner a great deal of attention from people outside the British Empire. Within a few years, however, the document profoundly influenced citizens from other countries hoping to escape the oppressive tyranny of their rulers. The “French Declaration of the Rights of Man,” most notably, drew upon Jefferson’s ideas and words. The Declaration of Independence remains an inspiration for freedom-loving peoples.

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Projects

Each of the projects is designed to allow you to demonstrate your skills and abilities with respect to what you have learned in this lesson. We offer you many choices so that you can find the one(s) that you find most interesting or relevant. In many of these projects we offer you help in how to approach them.

Jefferson was heavily influenced by some great political philosophers before him (e.g. Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Montesquieu)

  • Create a Comparison Chart to show what issues Jefferson agreed with three of these thinkers and what areas he would have had disagreement and be prepared to do a ten minute presentation on this map.
  • Write a short play about Jefferson's dinner conversation with any two of his historical influencers.
  • Write an essay or build a presentation that shows which of Jefferson's ideas in the Declaration of Independence came from these great thinkers. Consider using Google Docs or Slideshare.
  • Create a discussion between Jefferson and one of the historical figures. You might consider using Wetoku to enact the conversation.

The colonial period between 1753-1776 was pivotal in how the country was formed.

  • Create the front page of a newspaper or a web homepage (simulated or live) that consolidates this period. Write 4-6 articles on the page and find the appropriate images and headlines for your front page.

The Declaration of Independence is an 18th century document. How would the ideas be communicated today? You can choose to.

  • Rewrite the Declaration of Independence as a 21st century document in your own language
  • Build a Facebook page for the D of I, include any relevant pictures of the proceedings and different documents or videos that you can find that you think are appropriate
  • Perform a song or poem that describes the key ideas in the Declaration

The Declaration of Independence included these three major ideas:

  1. People have certain Inalienable Rights including Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness
  2. All Men are created equal
  3. Individuals have a civic duty to defend these rights for themselves and others

How important do you think these principals are today? Are we still living by them? Pick one and

  • Write a paper to examine and defend your position.
  • Give a speech explaining whether we are living up to the ideals.
  • Write a fictional story based in the present day that deals with one or more of these ideas. Create a conflict and determine how your lead character(s) will deal with them.
  • Create a forum/survey (online or offline) to collect opinions around how well America is living up to any or all of these principals. Make a presentation on your findings.
  • Conduct an interview with Thomas Jefferson and have him explain why he felt one of the above ideas was so important. Come up with 2 other follow-up questions you would ask him about this issue and have him answer those as well.

The three ideas are strongly entangled. What would it mean if one of the three were removed? Write two similar short stories. One that describes a scenario when all three ideas are in play, the other when only two are.

  • Is there another idea that you think should be inserted as an inalienable right. Write a story that demonstrates the right and its critical importance.

Those in the Second Continental Congress did not just walk in and sign the Declaration of Independence. It took about a year from the time they first met to the time they signed it. Research what went on during the period that led up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and


The Declaration of Independence

You probably already know that The Declaration of Independence was an important document in American history. The founding fathers wrote it to declare independence from England and to show they were willing to fight for it. With this document, the signers showed England that they were unified in their beliefs about government. The drafting of the Declaration did not start the American Revolution, but it made it official. After the colonial leaders published these ideas out to the world, they could never turn back.

There are other reasons why the Declaration is so important in our collective history. Of course, its original purpose was to declare independence, but it contains other original and innovative ideas as well. The Declaration explains why the new American society will be different than anything that came before it. It shows what the mindset of the American people was at the time and what it would become as the states formed their identities. The ideas described were crucial to the formation of the American heritage. In fact, they affect how Americans think and how the American government operates today.

Even though the Declaration was the "first of its kind," it was like most historical "firsts." The ideas in it were a logical reaction to beliefs and events of the past. The changes described in the Declaration did not just come out of nowhere, they developed over a long period of time &mdash at least a century before the Declaration was written. The many events that led up to the drafting of the Declaration included conflicts over a variety of political, economic, philosophical, religious and social issues. By the time the Revolution began, these issues had affected the colonists so much that they knew they had to take action to gain control of their government.

The development of the Declaration of Independence was a natural next step in the development of an American way of thinking. Even though it built upon activities and ideas already in place, it was an extraordinary event.

The ideas of the Declaration were revolutionary and today they are a key part of the American way of thinking. The chart below shows just how much change would be underway because of this important document.

Old Way of ThinkingNew American Way of Thinking
There is a hierarchy and natural order of certain people having a higher status than others. The king is at the top with royalty following and peasants at the bottom.All Men are created equal. No one man is superior to another.
A king or the church can decide what the laws are and what rights an individual has.Everyone, no matter who they are, is born with certain rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
People fight for what the king or church tells them to fight for.Individuals have a civic duty to defend their inalienable rights for themselves and others.
Government gets it power from a higher authorityGovernment gets its power from the people

So how did such a significant shift happen? What were the results and consequences of this new American thinking? Keep reading to find out!


The Declaration of Independence

hen in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. &mdash That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, &mdash That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. &mdash Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. &mdash 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.


Watch the video: 243 έτη από την Διακήρυξη της Ανεξαρτησίας των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών Αμερικής (January 2022).