Declaration of Independence
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
History of the Declaration of Independence
On July 4, 1776, the Second
Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), approved the Declaration of Independence, severing the colonies' ties to the British Crown.
by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is the nation's most cherished symbol
of liberty and Jefferson's
most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed
the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its
ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson
did was to summarize this philosophy in "self-evident truths" and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order
to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.
The opening paragraphs of the
Declaration of Independence outline the natural rights afforded to all people, calling them self-evident truths, and using
them to form the basis of a governmental system. The second portion of the document describes how King George III had disregarded
those natural rights to establish a tyranny over the colonies and sets up a justification for American independence.
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents
in the history of the United States. It marked an official step taken by the American colonies toward independence from British
During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), delegates to
the Second Continental Congress met in the summer of 1776 to discuss independence from Great Britain. On June 7, Richard Henry
Lee, a statesman from Virginia, appointed a committee to investigate how the colonies could become independent. Lee called
for the drafting of an official statement of independence. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston,
and Roger Sherman were instructed to draft a resolution. On July 2, 1776, the Congress voted to declare independence from
England. After two days of debate and some changes to the document, the Congress voted to accept the Declaration of Independence
on July 4, 1776. This action represented a formal separation of the American colonies from Great Britain.
Writing the Declaration
The Declaration is a combination
of general principles and an abstract theory of government. The fundamental American ideal of government is based on the theory
of natural rights. The opening paragraphs of the document outline the natural rights afforded to all people, calling them
self-evident truths, and using them to form the basis of a governmental system. The second portion of the document describes
how King George III had disregarded those natural rights to establish a tyranny over the colonies, and sets up a justification
for American independence. As you read the Declaration of Independence, see how the first part gives notice of the break with
England and the reasons for the break. The last part is the list of grievances or complaints against King George III.
One of the most famous phrases
in the Declaration is the second sentence: “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 those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit
of Happiness.” Writing and signing the Declaration of Independence took courage, since the signers would be acting against
authority and could be accused of treason. The drafting of the document was an important step in the founding of our Government.
Signing the Declaration
The Declaration of Independence
was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, but it was not signed until almost a month later. The Congress
did not have the approval of all 13 colonies until July 9, 1776. On July 19, the Congress ordered that an official copy of
the document be created. The order called for handwritten ornamental script to be used on parchment paper with the title "The
unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America." The signing of the Declaration of Independence took place
on August 2, 1776.
As President of the Second Continental
Congress, John Hancock was the first to sign this historic document. He used large bold script and signed under the text in
the center of the page. At that time, a general practice was to sign below text on the right and by geographic location. Using
this protocol, signatures of the New Hampshire delegates began the list with the column on the right. Delegates from Georgia,
North Carolina, and South Carolina, the southernmost states, ended the list with the column on the left. Some of the delegates
were not in Philadelphia on that day, but signed the document later. One of the New Hampshire delegates, Matthew Thornton,
added his signature later at the bottom of the right column. Not all delegates signed the document. The signers of the Declaration
of Independence included future Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Members of the United States Congress.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
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 shown 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
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 invasions from without and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose
obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration 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
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 offenses;
For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring 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, burned our towns, and destroyed
the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete
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
He has excited domestic insurrection among us, and has endeavored 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 our 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
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
the 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 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
[Signed by] JOHN HANCOCK [President]
ROBT. TREAT PAINE,
CHARLES CARROLL of Carrollton.
RICHARD HENRY LEE,
THS. NELSON, JR.,
FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE,
THOMAS LYNCH, JUNR.,
Mr. Ferdinand Jefferson, Keeper of the Rolls in the Department of State, at Washington, says: "The names of the signers are spelt
above as in the facsimile of the original, but the punctuation of them is not always the same; neither do the names of the
States appear in the facsimile of the original. The names of the signers of each State are grouped together in the facsimile
of the original, except the name of Matthew Thornton, which follows that of Oliver Wolcott." Revised Statutes of the United States, 2d edition, 1878, p. 6.
Sources: Documents Illustrative
of the Formation of the Union
of the American States. Government Printing Office, 1927. House Document No. 398. Selected, Arranged and Indexed by Charles
C. Tansill; Yale Law
School, The Avalon Project; ourdocuments.gov; National Archives; Library
Recommended Reading: 1776, by David McCullough (Simon
& Schuster). Description: Esteemed historian David McCullough covers the military side of the momentous year of 1776 with
characteristic insight and a gripping narrative, adding new scholarship and a fresh perspective to the beginning of the American
Revolution. It was a turbulent and confusing time. As British and American politicians struggled to reach a compromise, events
on the ground escalated until war was inevitable. McCullough writes vividly about the dismal conditions that troops on both
sides had to endure, including an unusually harsh winter, and the role that luck and the whims of the weather played in helping
the colonial forces hold off the world's greatest army. Continued below...
He also effectively explores the importance of motivation and troop morale--a tie was as good as a win to the Americans,
while anything short of overwhelming victory was disheartening to the British, who expected a swift end to the war. The redcoat
retreat from Boston,
for example, was particularly humiliating for the British, while the minor American victory at Trenton was magnified despite its limited strategic importance. Some of the strongest passages in 1776 are the revealing and well-rounded portraits of the Georges on both sides of
the Atlantic. King George III, so often portrayed as a bumbling, arrogant fool, is given
a more thoughtful treatment by McCullough, who shows that the king considered the colonists to be petulant subjects without
legitimate grievances--an attitude that led him to underestimate the will and capabilities of the Americans. At times he seems
shocked that war was even necessary. The great Washington lives up to his considerable reputation in these pages, and McCullough
relies on private correspondence to balance the man and the myth, revealing how deeply concerned Washington was about the
Americans' chances for victory, despite his public optimism. Perhaps more than any other man, he realized how fortunate they
were to merely survive the year, and he willingly lays the responsibility for their good fortune in the hands of God rather
than his own. Enthralling and superbly written, 1776 is the work of a master historian. --Shawn Carkonen
Recommended Reading: The Declaration
of Independence: The Story Behind America's
Founding Document and the Men Who Created It (Hardcover). Description: The fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence,
the foundation of America's freedom, created
a nation and launched a freedom movement the world had never seen. Today it seems inevitable that the thirteen colonies would
declare their independence from Britain.
And yet in 1776 it was not so. Here is the extraordinary story of drama and daring, sacrifice and selflessness, danger and
potential death. Continued below...
The signers concluded their work with a plea for Providential protection and a selfless vow to sacrifice
"our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Many of them did just that to create a country in which "all men are created
equal, . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these, are Life, Liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness." Award-winning historian Rod Gragg brings to life the drama of 1776 like no other book. The
removable artifacts, including a full-size (24-1/4" x 29-1/2") replica of the Declaration of Independence, bring to life the
events of 1776 like no other presentation.
Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents The Revolution (A&E) (600 minutes). Review: They came of age in a new world amid intoxicating and innovative
ideas about human and civil rights diverse economic systems and self-government. In a few short years these men and women
would transform themselves into architects of the future through the building of a new nation – “a nation unlike
any before.” From the roots of the rebellion and the signing of the Declaration of Independence to victory on the battlefield
and the adoption of The United States Constitution, THE REVOLUTION tells the remarkable story of this pivotal era in history.
Venturing beyond the conventional list of generals and politicians, THE HISTORY CHANNEL® introduces the full range of individuals
who helped shape this great conflict including some of the war’s most influential unsung heroes. Continued below...
Through sweeping cinematic recreations intimate biographical investigations and provocative political military
and economic analysis the historic ideas and themes that transformed treasonous acts against the British into noble acts of
courage both on and off the battlefield come to life in this dramatic and captivating program. This
TEN HOUR DVD Features: History in the Making: The Revolution Behind-the-Scenes Featurette; Interactive Menus;
Recommended Reading: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic (Hardcover).
Review: From the prizewinning author of the best-selling
Founding Brothers and American Sphinx,
a masterly and highly ironic examination of the founding years of our country. The last quarter of the eighteenth century
remains the most politically creative era in American history, when a dedicated and determined group of men undertook a bold
experiment in political ideals. It was a time of triumphs; yet, as Joseph J. Ellis makes clear, it was also a time of tragedies—all
of which contributed to the shaping of our burgeoning nation. Continued below...
From the first
shots fired at Lexington to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase,
Ellis guides us through the decisive issues of the nation’s founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting
alliances, and personal and political foibles of our now iconic leaders—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and
Adams. He casts an incisive eye on the founders’ achievements, arguing that the American Revolution was, paradoxically,
an evolution—and that part of what made it so extraordinary was the gradual pace at which it occurred. He shows us why
the fact that it was brought about by a group, rather than by a single individual, distinguished it from the bloodier revolutions
of other countries, and ultimately played a key role in determining its success. He explains how the idea of a strong federal
government, championed by Washington, was eventually embraced by the American people, the majority of whom had to be won over,
as they feared an absolute power reminiscent of the British Empire. And he details the emergence of the two-party system—then
a political novelty—which today stands as the founders’ most enduring legacy. But Ellis is equally incisive about
their failures, and he makes clear how their inability to abolish slavery and to reach a just settlement with the Native Americans
has played an equally important role in shaping our national character. He demonstrates how these misjudgments, now so abundantly
evident, were not necessarily inevitable. We learn of the negotiations between Henry Knox and Alexander McGillivray, the most
talented Indian statesman of his time, which began in good faith and ended in disaster. And we come to understand how a political
solution to slavery required the kind of robust federal power that the Jeffersonians viewed as a betrayal of their most deeply
held principles. With eloquence and insight, Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men
both human and inspired, possessed of both brilliance and blindness. American Creation is a book that delineates an era of
flawed greatness, at a time when understanding our origins is more important than ever. About the Author: Joseph J. Ellis received the Pulitzer
Prize for Founding Brothers and the National Book
Award for his portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount
Holyoke College. He lives in
Amherst, Massachusetts, with
his wife, Ellen, and their youngest son, Alex.
Reading: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Review: In retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it?
In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely
contested in the early days of the republic. Ellis focuses on six crucial moments in the life of the new nation, including
a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation's capital was determined--in exchange for support of Hamilton's
financial plan; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell
Address; and the Hamilton and Burr duel. Most interesting, perhaps, is the debate (still dividing scholars today) over the
meaning of the Revolution. Continued below...
In a fascinating
chapter on the renewed friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives, Ellis points out the
fundamental differences between the Republicans, who saw the Revolution as a liberating act and hold the Declaration of Independence
most sacred, and the Federalists, who saw the revolution as a step in the building of American nationhood and hold the Constitution
most dear. Throughout the text, Ellis explains the personal, face-to-face nature of early American politics--and notes that
the members of the revolutionary generation were conscious of the fact that they were establishing precedents on which future
generations would rely. In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997)
has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended.
Recommended Viewing: John Adams
(HBO Miniseries) (2008) (501 minutes). Description: Based on David McCullough's bestselling biography, the HBO miniseries
John Adams is the furthest thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers and the brutal
path to independence. Adams (Paul Giamatti), second president of the United
States, is portrayed as a skilled orator and principled attorney whose preference for justice
over anti-English passions earns enemies. But he also gains the esteem of the first national government of the United States,
i.e., the Continental Congress, which seeks non-firebrands capable of making a reasoned if powerful case for America's break
from England's monarchy. The first thing one notices about John Adams' dramatizations of congress' proceedings, and the fervent
pro-independence violence in the streets of Boston and elsewhere, is that America's roots don't look pretty or idealized here.
Some horrendous things happen in the name of protest, driving Adams to push the cause of
independence in a legitimate effort to get on with a revolutionary war under the command of George Washington. But the process
isn't easy: not every one of the 13 colonies-turned-states is ready to incur the wrath of England, and behind-the-scenes negotiations prove as much a part of 18th century
congressional sessions as they do today. Continued below...
Besides this peek into a less-romanticized
version of the past, John Adams is also a story of the man himself. Adams' frustration at being forgotten or overlooked at
critical junctures of America's early development--sent abroad for years instead of helping to draft the U.S. constitution--is detailed. So is his dismay that the
truth of what actually transpired leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence has been slowly forgotten and
replaced by a rosier myth. But above all, John Adams is the story of two key ties: Adams'
54-year marriage to Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), every bit her husband's intellectual equal and anchor, and his difficult,
almost symbiotic relationship with Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) over decades. Giamatti, of course, has to carry much
of the drama, and if he doesn't always seem quite believable in the series' first half, he becomes increasingly excellent
at the point where an aging Adams becomes bitter over his place in history. Linney is marvelous,
as is Dillane, Sarah Polley as daughter Nabby, Danny Huston as cousin Samuel Adams, and above all Tom Wilkinson as a complex
but indispensable Ben Franklin.
Recommended Reading: John Adams, by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster). From Publishers
Weekly: Here a preeminent master of narrative history takes on the most fascinating of our founders to create a benchmark
for all Adams biographers. With a keen eye for telling detail and a master storyteller's
instinct for human interest, McCullough (Truman; Mornings on Horseback) resurrects the great Federalist (1735-1826), revealing
in particular his restrained, sometimes off-putting disposition, as well as his political guile. The events McCullough recounts
are well-known, but with his astute marshaling of facts, the author surpasses previous biographers in depicting Adams's years
at Harvard, his early public life in Boston and his role in
the first Continental Congress, where he helped shape the philosophical basis for the Revolution. McCullough also makes vivid
Adams's actions in the second Congress, during which he was the first to propose George Washington
to command the new Continental Army. Continued below...
Later on, we see Adams bickering
with Tom Paine's plan for government as suggested in Common Sense, helping push through the draft for the Declaration of Independence
penned by his longtime friend and frequent rival, Thomas Jefferson, and serving as commissioner to France
and envoy to the Court of St. James's. The author is likewise brilliant in portraying Adams's complex relationship with Jefferson, who ousted him from the White House in 1800 and with whom he would share a remarkable death
date 26 years later: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration. (June) Forecast: Joseph Ellis
has shown us the Founding Fathers can be bestsellers, and S&S knows it has a winner: first printing is 350,000 copies,
and McCullough will go on a 15-city tour; both Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club have taken this book as a
Recommended Viewing: Just
the Facts - Declaration of Independence. Description:
Learn why the Declaration of Independence is America's
most revered document. These words grace The Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, which remain as true today as when
they were conceived. It is critical for American citizens to understand their importance in defining our freedoms and the
foundation of democracy. This captivating program explores the political forces that existed before 1776 and the socioeconomic
realities which made it necessary to declare to the world our independence from Great
Britain. Examine the body of knowledge that contributed to The Declaration of Independence,
such as the Magna Carta of 1215.
Recommended Reading: The Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution of the United
States of America. Description: To encourage people everywhere to better understand
and appreciate the principles of government that are set forth in America’s founding documents, the Cato Institute published
this pocket edition of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. With more than
three million copies in print, this edition’s influence has been observed far and wide. It has been held up by senators
at press conferences and by representatives during floor debate; found in federal judicial chambers across the country; appeared
at conferences on constitutionalism in Russia, Iraq, and elsewhere; and sold at U.S. Park Service stores, Restoration Hardware,
and book stores around the country. It’s a perfect gift for friends and family. Order your copies today!
Recommended Viewing: The American Revolution (History Channel) (482 minutes). Description: Revisit the birth of a nation in this truly definitive look at
America's fight for independence and its world-changing rise to glory. The American
Revolution features ten powerful documentaries--more than eight hours of essential programming by THE HISTORY CHANNEL® and
A&E on DVD for the first time. From the Declaration of Independence to the Treaty of Paris, these are the stories and
events surrounding the remarkable achievements of heroic individuals seized by the epic forces of history. Hear the words
of the founding fathers and other key figures, as read by leading actors such as Kelsey Grammar (TV’s Frasier) and Michael
Learned (TV’s The Waltons). Continued below...
Thrilling re-enactments of great battles, compelling period images, rare archival material, and commentary
by leading historians bring the past vividly alive. Between Bunker Hill and Yorktown, from Ben Franklin's masterful diplomacy to Benedict Arnold's deceit and tragedy,
The American Revolution presents a sweeping canvas of historical programming at its comprehensive best.
Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776 History, What is the Declaration of Independence Purpose
Results Facts Copy, List of Signers of the Declaration of Independence Details Achieved Accomplished the Following Key Points
in American History, Names of the Signers