The Democratic Party

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in United States history. An act of the Second Continental Congress, the document declared the 13 colonies’ independence from Great Britain and laid the foundation for the formation of the United States of America.

Today, you can find the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, along with the Constitution of the United States and Bill of Rights, in the rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

The Basis for the Declaration of Independence

Prior to the American Revolutionary War, the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain became increasingly strained. As a result, the Americans established shadow governments in each colony. These governments were linked via a Continental Congress and Committees of Correspondence.

When the American Revolutionary War erupted in 1775, the shadow governments took control of their respective colonies and removed all of the royal officials. As a result and in response to British actions, American sentiment for independence grew rapidly.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, a representative from Virginia, stated to the Continental Congress, “These united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.” In response, Congress appointed a committee to draft a formal statement of independence from Great Britain. The committee included:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • John Adams
  • Robert R. Livingston
  • Roger Sherman
  • Thomas Jefferson.

The Writing of the Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson was called upon to write a draft of what would become the Declaration of Independence. Prior to asking Jefferson to write the draft, the Committee of the Second Continental Congress asked both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to write the document. Both men refused the task.

After Jefferson created the draft, Franklin made at least 48 corrections to the document. After incorporating the changes, Jefferson presented the draft to the Continental Congress on June 28, 1776. The Congress finished revising the declaration on July 4, 1776, after meeting in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Contents of the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence explains the reasons why the colonies should separate from British rule. It also documents King George III’s “repeated injuries and usurpations” of America’s rights and liberties. Of note, the Declaration criticized the king “for imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”

While the document united the colonies in declaring independence from Britain, it did not unite the colonies into a single nation. That union would not come for several years.

The Preamble of the Declaration of Independence

The Preamble of the Declaration of Independence was greatly influenced by republicanism and reflects the philosophy of Enlightenment. It also includes the concepts of natural law and self-determination:

“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.”

The Signers of the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men in a ceremony on Aug. 2, 1776. Here are some interesting facts about some of the signers:

  • Benjamin Franklin, at the age of 70, was the oldest signer of the Declaration.
  • The largest signature on the declaration is that of John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress.
  • The youngest signer was Edward Rutledge. Rutledge was 26 when he signed the Declaration.

Two men that later became president signed the Declaration of Independence: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.