Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence
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Declaration of Independence

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. This document, which the Second Continental Congress adopted on 4 July 1776, proclaimed the original thirteen American colonies independent of Great Britain and provided an explanation and justification of that step. Although it was first drafted as a revolutionary manifesto, Americans of later generations came to honor the Declaration less for its association with independence than for its assertion that "all men are created equal" and "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," among which are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," individual rights that went unmentioned in the federal Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Development of Independence

The original thirteen British colonies of mainland North America moved toward independence slowly and reluctantly. The colonists were proud of being British and had no desire to be separated from a mother country with which they were united, as John Dickinson put it in his popular newspaper "letters" from "a Farmer in Pennsylvania" (1767–1768), "by religion, liberty, laws, affections, relation, language and commerce." Not even the outbreak of war at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on 19 April 1775 produced calls for independence. In July of that year, the Second Continental Congress sent the King a petition for redress and reconciliation, which Dickinson drafted in conspicuously respectful language.

The king did not formally answer to the petition. Instead, in a proclamation of August 23, 1775, he asserted that the colonists were engaged in an "open and avowed rebellion." Then, on October 26, he told Parliament that the American rebellion was "manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire," and that the colonists' professions of loyalty to him and the "parent State" were "meant only to amuse." News of the speech arrived at Philadelphia in January 1776, just when Thomas Paine's Common Sense appeared. American freedom would never be secure under British rule, Paine argued, because the British government included two grave "constitutional errors," monarchy and hereditary rule. Americans could secure their future and that of their children only by declaring their independence and founding a new government whose authority rested on the people alone, with no king or other hereditary rulers. The pamphlet opened a widespread public debate on the previously taboo subject of independence. News of Parliament's Prohibitory Act (December 1775), which declared colonial ships and cargoes forfeit to the Crown as if they were the possessions of "open enemies," added force to Paine's argument, as did news that the Crown had hired German mercenary soldiers to help subdue the Americans.

Finally, on 10 and 15 May 1776, Congress passed a resolution written by John Adams with a radical preface that called for the total suppression of "every kind of authority under the … crown" and the establishment of new state governments "under the authority of the people." Simultaneously, on 15 May, Virginia instructed its Congressional delegation to move that Congress declare independence, negotiate foreign alliances, and design an American confederation. As a result, on 7 June 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced the following resolution: "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 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." Lee also moved that Congress "take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances" and prepare "a plan of confederation" for the colonies' consideration.

Congress debated Lee's resolution on Saturday, 8 May, and again the following Monday. According to notes kept by Thomas Jefferson, most delegates conceded that independence was justified and inevitable, but some argued for delay. The colonies should negotiate agreements with potential European allies before declaring independence, they said. Moreover, the delegates of several colonies, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, were bound by instructions that precluded their voting for independence. Since opinion in those colonies was said to be "fast advancing," even a short delay might avoid a seriously divided vote. The delegates therefore put off the decision until July, but on 11 June appointed a committee to draft a declaration on independence. It had five members: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Pennsylvania's Benjamin Franklin.

Drafting the Declaration

The drafting committee left no formal records of its proceedings, and the private notes that Jefferson kept devote only a few sentences to the subject. The story of the Declaration's creation must be pieced together from a handful of documents of the time and from accounts by Jefferson and Adams, most of which were written long after the event and sometimes contradict each other. Before appointing a draftsman, it seems likely that the committee met, discussed how the document should be organized, and perhaps wrote "minutes" or instructions, as Adams said. Probably, as Jefferson claimed, he alone was asked to write the document.

In the previous few weeks, Jefferson had drafted a preamble for Virginia's new constitution. He clearly modeled its opening paragraph on the British Declaration of Rights (February 1689), which charged King James II with attempting to "subvert and extirpate" both the Protestant religion and the "Laws and Liberties of this Kingdom." Jefferson similarly accused George III of attempting to establish "a detestable & insupportable tyranny" in Virginia, and then listed a series of transgressions that, like those in the British Declaration, began with the word "by." Now he returned to a draft of his Virginia preamble that remained among his papers, rearranging and expanding the list of grievances for use in the Declaration of Independence. However, rather than start with a "Whereas" clause, as had both his Virginia preamble and its British predecessor, Jefferson proposed a magnificent opening paragraph beginning "When in the course of human events." It identified what followed as having significance far beyond America and Britain alone.

Jefferson's famous second paragraph, which began "We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable," expressed ideas widely shared among the colonists. Its language, however, owed much to an early version of the Virginia Declaration of Rights written by George chMason. Jefferson took phrases from the Mason draft, compressed them, then added language of his own to construct a single long sentence, based on a standard eighteenth-century rhetorical device that prescribed a series of phrases whose meaning became clear only at the end. The Mason draft said, for example, "all men are born equally free and independent." Jefferson wrote instead "that all men are created equal & independent," then crossed out "& independent." The Mason draft asserted that men had "certain inherent natural rights" that they could not "by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." Jefferson wrote instead that men had "inherent & inalienable rights" including "life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness." To secure those rights, he added, "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." He concluded his series of phrases with a powerful assertion of the people's right to abolish and replace a government that became destructive of their rights—in short, of the right of revolution, which the Americans were exercising in 1776. That right should not, he went on to say, be invoked for "light & transient causes," but it became not only the people's right but also their "duty to throw off" a government guilty of "a long train of abuses & usurpations" moving toward the establishment of "arbitrary power." And the reign of George III, Jefferson asserted, was "a history of unremitting injuries and usurpations," directed toward "the establishment of an absolute tyranny over the American states.

A long list of examples, or charges against the king, followed. They began not with "by" but with the more emphatic words "he has." The first set of charges recalled somewhat obscure grievances suffered by a specific colony or group of colonies; then, under a charge that "he had combined with others" to perform certain acts, the list recalled more familiar acts of Parliament that had received the royal assent. A final section cited recent events, such as the king's "declaring us out of his allegiance & protection" by approving the Prohibitory Act and employing "large armies of foreign mercenaries" against his American subjects. The Jefferson draft also charged the king with responsibility for the slave trade. A king "whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant," the draft said, "is unfit to be the ruler of a people who mean to be free." A rambling, angry penultimate section castigated the British people for supporting King and Parliament. Then, in its final paragraph, the draft declared "these colonies to be free and independent states" with all the rights of such states. "And for the support of this declaration," it ended, "we"—the delegates who would in time sign the document—"mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honor."

Jefferson sketched out parts of the draft on scraps of paper, some of which survive, then copied the whole to show to other members of the committee. He also used that copy—the "original Rough draught," as he called it, which is now at the Library of Congress—to record all subsequent editorial changes. Jefferson submitted the draft to John Adams, who made a complete copy of the document as it stood when he saw it, and also to Benjamin Franklin, who was recovering from a severe attack of gout. They suggested some changes, and Jefferson initiated others. Then, he told James Madison in 1823, he submitted the revised document to the committee, which sent it "unaltered" to Congress. However, a note he sent to Franklin with an already revised draft in June 1776 tells a different tale. "The inclosed paper has been read and with some small alterations approved by the committee," it said. Would Franklin please "peruse it and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate? The paper having been returned to me to change a particular sentiment or two, I propose laying it again before the committee tomorrow morning." Clearly the draft was a collaborative effort, and some of the changes that appear on the "rough draft" in Jefferson's handwriting were mandated by the committee.

Independence

On 28 June 1776, the committee submitted its draft to Congress, which promptly tabled it for later consideration. Meanwhile, towns, counties, grand juries, and some private groups publicly declared and explained their support for independence. Gradually one state after another fell into line, revising their Congressional instructions and sometimes also issuing state declarations of independence either as separate documents (Maryland, 6 July 1776) or as opening sections of their new constitutions (Virginia, 29 June, and New Jersey, 2 July). Those documents vary in form and style, but most of them recall the colonists' past affection for the king and cite a familiar set of fairly recent events to explain their change in sentiment—the king's neglect of the colonists' dutiful petitions; his endorsement of the Prohibitory Act and hiring of German mercenaries; his use of slaves and Indians against white colonists; the devastation caused by his armies. They also explain independence as a step the Americans accepted only to save themselves from destruction. Americans needed to bid Britain "the last adieu," as Buckingham County, Virginia, put it, before any foreign nations would, "for their own interest, lend an assisting hand … and enable us to discharge the great burdens of the war."

On 1 July, when Congress again debated independence, sentiment remained divided, with nine states in favor, two (Pennsylvania and South Carolina) opposed, and one (Delaware) split. New York's delegates abstained because their year-old instructions, which precluded doing anything that would impede reconciliation with Britain, had not been replaced. However, a delegate from South Carolina asked that the final vote be delayed until the next day. Then, with the timely absence of a few Pennsylvania delegates, the arrival of another Delaware delegate, Caesar Rodney, and a shift in the South Carolina vote, Congress approved the Lee resolution with twelve in favor, none opposed, and the New Yorkers still watching from the sidelines.

The delegates then took up the Declaration of Independence, and—even as a major British force debarked in New York to put down the Americans' "rebellion" once and for all—spent most of the next two days editing the document. They made only a handful of changes to its lyrical opening paragraphs, which Jefferson had already worked over carefully; but they eliminated entirely the long paragraph that placed blame for the slave trade entirely on the king and, curiously, called him a tyrant for offering freedom to slaves who abandoned their masters and joined his army. Several other changes similarly cut back or eliminated overstatements or inaccuracies in the draft. For example, where Jefferson charged the King with "unremitting" injuries, as if he never slept, Congress substituted the word "repeated." The delegates also made some minor adjustments to language ("neglected utterly" became "utterly neglected"); compressed Jefferson's rambling, overlong attack on the British people; and rewrote the all-important final paragraph, adding references to God and substituting the words of the Lee resolution for those proposed by the drafting committee, but retaining Jefferson's mellifluous closing reference to "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Jefferson watched this triumph of group editing with pain, and later made several copies of the committee draft to show correspondents how Congress had "mutilated" his work.

Finally, on 4 July, Congress approved the revised text, then ordered that it be printed and authenticated under the supervision of the drafting committee and distributed to the states and continental army commanders so it could be "proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the army." Congress's printer, John Dunlap, quickly produced a broadside copy, which John Hancock, Congress's president, sent out with appropriate cover letters. On 9 July, New York added its consent to that of the other thirteen states. And on 19 July, after hearing that news, Congress resolved "that the Declaration passed on the 4th, be fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile of 'The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America, '" and that the parchment copy should be signed "by every member of Congress." The main signing occurred on 2 August. However, it was not until January 1777—after Americans victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, had ended the long disastrous military campaign of 1776—that Congress sent authenticated copies of the signed Declaration to the states.

From Announcement to Icon

The letters from Hancock that accompanied the Dunlap broadside called on the states to proclaim the Declaration "in such a Manner, that the People may be universally informed of it." Massachusetts directed that the Declaration be read aloud after Sunday services in churches; in Virginia and Maryland, it was read to the gatherings of people at county court days. In New York, General Washington had the Declaration read "with an audible voice" before several brigades of the Continental Army, "formed in hollow squares" often with the British in view on nearby Staten Island.

In the decade and a half after 1776, Americans sometimes referred to the Declaration as the "instrument of our Independence," as if it, and not Congress's less familiar resolutions of 2 July, had ended America's subservience to Britain. Otherwise, the document was all but forgotten until the 1790s, when it emerged from obscurity not as a revolutionary manifesto—by then Independence was old news—but a statement affirming human equality and the existence of "unalienable rights."

The document's celebrants were at first members of the Jeffersonian Republican Party. But as its fiftieth anniversary approached after the War of 1812, the Declaration became a national icon, though one soon embroiled in controversy. As antislavery advocates enlisted the Declaration in their cause, Southern defenders of slavery and their northern allies vociferously denied that "all men" are "created equal" and have "unalienable rights." The Declaration's assertions, they said, applied at best to white men only, and should have been omitted from a document that was meant only to separate America from Britain.

On the opposite side stood a set of men, shaped in the patriotic culture of the 1820s, who later found a home in the Republican Party and whose most eloquent spokesman was Abraham Lincoln. The equality in the Declaration, they said, never implied that men were equal in intellect or strength or appearance. It consisted, they said, in men's equal possession of rights. Had the Declaration's purpose been confined to independence, it would be only "an interesting memorial of the dead past" with no practical use in later times. As a testament to personal rights, however, the Declaration was, and was always meant to be, a document of continuing significance. It set up, Lincoln said, "a standard maxim for free society" that was to be enforced "as fast as circumstances should permit," gradually extending its influence and "augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere" (Springfield, 26 June 1857). Members of the Republican Party finally added the principles of the Declaration of Independence, as they understood them, to the Constitution by enacting the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery, and, following Lincoln's death, the Fourteenth Amendment, which precluded the states from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

Today Americans revere the Declaration of Independence less as "the instrument of our Independence" than a statement of rights. They remember only those opening phrases of its second paragraph that speak of equality and of unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even the engraving on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., cuts off Jefferson's carefully constructed long sentence in the middle, ending with the assertion "that to these rights governments are instituted among men." The right of revolution, the original point of the sentence, was edited out, transforming a revolutionary manifesto into an assertion of the rights that established governments must protect, much like a bill of rights. Not only the members of the drafting committee and other delegates to the Second Continental Congress edited the Declaration of Independence, but also generations of later Americans. They gave it a function with which Jefferson would not perhaps have disagreed, but that remains nonetheless different from that of the document as he understood it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boyd, Julian P. The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text. Reprint, Charlottesville, N.C.: International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, 1999.

———, ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. vol. 1. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950.

Hazelton, John H. The Declaration of Independence: Its History. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1970.

Larson, Carlton F. W. "The Declaration of Independence: A 225th Anniversary Re-Interpretation," Washington Law Re-view, LXXVI (2001): 701–787.

Lucas, Stephen E. "The Rhetorical Ancestry of the Declaration of Independence," Rhetoric and Public Affairs, I (1998): 143–184.

Maier, Pauline, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997.

PaulineMaier

See alsoIndependence ; Jeffersonian Democracy ; Revolution, American ; andvol. 9:Declaration of Independence .

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Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

Sources

Richard Henry Lees Resolution. On Friday, 7 June 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented Congress with a resolution from Virginias Convention that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free & 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 & ought to be totally dissolved.... Lees resolution called on Congress to begin taking measures to secure foreign assistance and to form a confederation to bind the colonies more closely together. The Congress, busy with other matters, put off discussion until the following day, which it spent debating independence. On the one side, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, John Dickinson of Delaware, Robert Livingston of New York, and the Rutledges of South Carolina, argued that the time was not right for independence. While New England and Virginia were united in support, the Middle colonies, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware were not yet ripe for bidding adieu to British connection. The delegates from these areas thought it better to wait until all the colonies were ready, and then act with unanimity, rather than force the issue. On the other side, Lee was joined by John Adams, Virginian George Wythe, and others in arguing that a declaration of independence would not make ourselves what we are not, but would only declare a fact which already exists. The contending sides could not agree. Congress decided to postpone action on Lees resolution until 1 July, but also decided to appoint committees to consider the Virginia proposals on declaring independence, on foreign alliances, and on confederation.

Committee on Independence. Congress named five men to the committee on independence. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was chosen for two reasons: Virginia had sponsored the resolution, so a Virginian had to be on the committee. Richard Henry Lee should have been the representative, but he wanted to return to his state to create its new government. Jefferson was relatively new to Congress, having served in 1775, and though he never uttered a word in debate, he was known for his insightful contributions on committees and for his writing. In July 1774 he had written A Summary View of the Rights of British America, a set of instructions to Virginias delegates to Congress, and in 1775 he had drafted Congresss response to Lord Frederick Norths offer of conciliation, and Congresss Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking up Arms.

Jefferson is Chosen. Despite Jeffersons reputation as a writer, he expected John Adams to draw up the declaration. Adams was the foremost public leader for independence. But Adams, who was busy on the committees for foreign treaties and the Board of War, refused Jeffersons request to draft a declaration. Why, will you not?, Jefferson said with surprise, You ought to do it. I will not, Adams said. Why? Jefferson asked. Reasons enough, said Adams. What can be your reasons[?] Reason first, Adams said, Your are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason secondI am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason thirdYou can write ten times better than I can. Well, if you are decided, Jefferson said, I will do as well as I can.

Congress Debates. In drafting his work, Jefferson kept in mind all of the arguments made in support of independence over the previous years. At the end of June he presented his draft to Franklin and Adams, who made minor suggestions, and on Friday, 28 June, the committee reported its declaration to Congress. On Monday, 1 July, the delegates took up Lees resolution, voting nine states to two in favor of independence. South Carolina and Pennsylvania both opposed the move, Delaware was divided, and New Yorks delegates could not vote for independence, though they supported it, because their instructions from the assembly required that they work toward reconciliation. John Rutledge of South Carolina moved that the Congress put off a final vote until the next day, as he believed by then his colleagues would support independence in the interest of unanimity. Overnight, a new delegate arrived from Delaware, and the reluctant members of the Pennsylvania delegation stayed away, making the vote twelve in favor, New York abstaining. On 2 July 1776, Congress declared independence.

The Second of July. On 3 July, as Congress debated the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail. He reflected on the train of events since 1761, when he heard James Otis make his argument against writs of assistance, and marvelled at the suddenness and Greatness of this Revolution. He worried about the future, about the war England would fight against the colonies, but he was certain that right would prevail. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America, he wrote. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

The Fourth of July. Adams had the right celebration, but the wrong date, according to popular American thought. Declaring independence was a revolutionary event but the reasons for the Declaration made it even more so. On 4 July Congress concluded its debate over the Declaration of Independence, and unanimously adopted it, with New Yorks delegates abstaining until after 9 July, when their states provincial convention rescinded their instructions to work only for reconciliation. The Declaration of Independence, adopted on 4 July as The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, begins with a preamble declaring its purpose to the world why Americans took such revolutionary measures. The Declaration also states a set of self-evident truths: all men are created equal; all men are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, including the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To help secure these rights, men establish governments, but when a government begins destroying, rather than protecting rights, the people have a right to alter or abolish the government, and to create a new one which will better protect their safety and happiness. These were the basic premises of the declaration. Next, to prove that the British government had trampled on the rights of Americans, the Declaration listed the wrongs done them by the British government. But unlike previous colonial declarations, this one aimed directly at the King. Americans had been arguing for years that Parliament could not govern their political societies, and in 1775 Congress had insisted that Americans owed no allegiance to Parliament. Now, Congress had to shift its focus from Parliament to the King, as some Americans still might believe that they could create a system, such as the one proposed by Franklin in 1754 and Joseph Galloway in 1774, with colonies tied together by a common allegiance to the British Crown. So the list of grievances in the Declaration place the blame directly on the King, charging him with tyranny and cruelty scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages and declaring that 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. The Declaration closes with a statement of disappointment in the British people, whom the Americans implored to disavow the Kings tyrannic conduct, but as they had proved deaf to every entreaty, the Americans now would hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. Concluding, the Declaration declared that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free & independent states, and with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honour. Congress made some notable alterations in Jeffersons draft, omitting about one-fourth of the text, simplifying some clauses and removing others. One of the most notable omissions was Jeffersons charge that George III had encouraged the slave trade, that he had waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, in carrying them across the Atlantic into slavery in America. Jefferson concluded this charge with another, that the King had also encouraged the slaves to rebel against their masters, thus prying off former crimes committed against the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another. Congress dropped this whole section, according to Jefferson, because South Carolina and Georgia wanted to continue importing slaves, and because our Northern brethren had few slaves themselves, but were pretty considerable carriers of them to others.

Signing the Declaration. Jefferson remembered that all of the delegates who were present, except John Dickinson, signed the Declaration on 4 July, but he may have been mistaken. No such copy exists. On 5 July, a broadside copy of the Declaration of Independence was published in Philadelphia, signed by John Hancock, the president of Congress, and Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress. The next day it was printed for the first time in a newspaper, and on 8 July was publicly read to a large gathering in Philadelphia. The crowd responded by tearing down the royal arms and with bonfires and ringing bells. The same enthusiasm met the event in other colonies as copies of the Declaration were read publicly, announcing the fact of independence. On 19 July Congress voted to have the delegates sign an engrossed copy, possible now that New York had allowed its delegates to vote for independence. By 2 August, the parchment Declaration of Independence was formally signed by fifty-six delegates to Congress.

Sources

Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, volume 1, 17601776 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950);

Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., The Adams Papers: Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, volume 2, 17711781 (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1961);

Merrill Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970);

Garry Wills, Inventing America: Jeffersons Declaration of Independence (New York: Random House, 1978).

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Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

In Congress, July 4, 1776 The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

The declaration of independence, perhaps the most famous document in U.S. history, was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The preparation of the declaration began on June 11, when Congress appointed a committee composed of thomas jefferson, john adams, benjamin franklin, robert r. livingston, and roger sherman. Jefferson actually wrote the declaration, appropriating some of the language in the virginia declaration of rights. Jefferson's famous phrase concerning "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is a slight reworking of the wording of the Virginia declaration.

After debate on Jefferson's draft, the Congress made several changes, yet the document remained an expression of the liberal political ideas articulated by john locke and others. The second section, with its reference to "He," is an indictment of the actions of King George III. Like Common Sense, this section destroyed the aura surrounding the monarchy and helped move the colonists toward psychological as well as political independence from Great Britain.

For the members of the continental congress, the declaration served as a vehicle for publicizing their grievances and winning support for the revolutionary cause. It affirmed the natural rights of all people and the right of the colonists to "dissolve the political bands" with the British government. Later generations have laid more stress on the political ideals expressed in the declaration and, in particular, have found inspiration in the phrase "all men are created equal."

Source: The United States Government Manual.

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.—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 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 or 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 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 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 & 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 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 state 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 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 disolved; 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.

John Hancock
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
Geo. Walton
Wm. Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
Edward Rutledge
Thos. Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton
Samuel Chase
Wm. Paca
Thos. Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Th. Jefferson
Benj. Harrison
Thos. Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Robt. Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benj. Franklin
John Morton
Geo. Clymer
Jas. Smith
Geo. Taylor
James Wilson
Geo. Ross
Caesar Rodney
Geo. Read
Tho. M. Kean
Wm. Floyd
Phil. Livington
Frans. Lewis
Lewis Morris
Richd. Stockton
Jno. Witherspoon
Fras. Hopkinson
John Hart
Abra. Clark
Josiah Bartlett
Wm. Whipple
Saml. Adams
John Adams
Robt. Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Step. Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Sam. Huntington
Wm. Williams
Oliver Wolcott
Matthew Thornton

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Declaration of Independence (1776)

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (1776)


Originally designed to influence the sometimes reluctant and uncertain public opinion, both in the colonies and abroad (particularly in France, a potential military ally), the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and ratified shortly after by the Second Continental Congress on 4 July 1776, two days after that body had officially severed its ties to Great Britain.

In composing this greatest, most famous of legal documents, Jefferson, already well regarded as an essayist, drew heavily not only on the ideas of his fellow patriots, but also on the natural-rights theories of John Locke and the Swiss legal philosophy of Emerich de Vattel. Although Jefferson's bitter attack on the institution of slavery was rejected by the convention in deference to South Carolina and Georgia, the principles set forth in the Declaration, among them the revolutionary notion that human beings had rights which even governments and kings could not take from them, would nevertheless become a rallying cry not only for Jefferson and his New World contemporaries, but also for many people at all times in the United States and around the world.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Continental Congress ; Declaration of Independence ; Revolution, American: Political History .

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 F, incapable of the 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 the 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 Rules 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.

John Hancock.

GEORGIA, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, Geo. Walton.

NORTH-CAROLINA, Wm. Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn.

SOUTH-CAROLINA, Edward Rutledge, Thos Heyward, junr., Thomas Lynch, junr., Arthur Middleton.

MARYLAND, Samuel Chase, Wm. Paca, Thos. Stone, Charles Carroll, of Carrollton.

VIRGINIA, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Ths. Jefferson, Benja. Harrison, Thos. Nelson, jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton.

PENNSYLVANIA, Robt. Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benja. Franklin, John Morton, Geo. Clymer, Jas. Smith, Geo. Taylor, James Wilson, Geo. Ross.

DELAWARE, Caesar Rodney, Geo. Read.

NEW-YORK, Wm. Floyd, Phil. Livingston, Frank Lewis, Lewis Morris.

NEW-JERSEY, Richd. Stockton, Jno. Witherspoon, Fras. Hopkinson, John Hart, Abra. Clark.

NEW-HAMPSHIRE, Josiah Bartlett, Wm. Whipple, Matthew Thornton.

MASSACHUSETTS-BAY, Saml. Adams, John Adams, Robt. Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry.

RHODE-ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE, C. Step. Hopkins, William Ellery.

CONNECTICUT, Roger Sherman, Saml. Huntington, Wm. Williams, Oliver Wolcott.

IN CONGRESS, JANUARY 18, 1777.

SOURCE: Journals of the American Congress from 1774 to 1788. Washington: 1823.

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Declaration of Independence

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Since its creation in 1776, the Declaration of Independence has been considered the single most important expression of the ideals of U.S. democracy. As a statement of the fundamental principles of the United States, the Declaration is an enduring reminder of the country's commitment to popular government and equal rights for all.

The Declaration of Independence is a product of the early days of the Revolutionary War. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress—the legislature of the American colonies—voted for independence from Great Britain. It then appointed a committee of five—

john adams, benjamin franklin, thomas jefferson, roger sherman, and Robert R. Livingston—to draft a formal statement of independence designed to influence public opinion at home and abroad. Because of his reputation as an eloquent and forceful writer, Jefferson was assigned the task of creating the document, and the final product is almost entirely his own work. The Congress did not approve all of Jefferson's original draft, however, rejecting most notably his denunciation of the slave trade. Delegates from South Carolina and Georgia were not yet ready to extend the notion of inalienable rights to African Americans.

On July 4, 1776, the day of birth for the new country, the continental congress approved the Declaration of Independence on behalf of the people living in the American colonies. The Declaration served a number of purposes for the newly formed United States. With regard to the power politics of the day, it functioned as a propaganda statement intended to build support for American independence abroad, particularly in France, from which the Americans hoped to have support in their struggle for independence. Similarly, it served as a clear message of intention to the British. Even more important for the later Republic of the United States, it functioned as a statement of governmental ideals.

In keeping with its immediate diplomatic purposes, most of the Declaration consists of a list of 30 grievances against acts of the British monarch George III. Many of these were traditional and legitimate grievances under British constitutional law. The Declaration firmly announces that British actions had established "an absolute Tyranny over these States." Britain's acts of despotism, according to the Declaration's list, included taxation of Americans without representation in Parliament; imposition of standing armies on American communities; establishment of the military above the civil power; obstruction of the right to trial by jury; interference with the operation of colonial legislatures; and cutting off of trade with the rest of the world. The Declaration ends with the decisive resolution 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."

The first sentences of the document and their statement of political ideals have remained the Declaration's most memorable and influential section. Among these sentences are the following:

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,—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.

Ever since their creation, these ideas have guided the development of U.S. government, including the creation of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The concepts of equal and inalienable rights for all, limited government, popular consent, and freedom to rebel have had a lasting effect on U.S. law and politics.

Scholars have long debated the relative importance of the different sources Jefferson used for his ideas in the Declaration. Most agree that the natural rights philosophy of English philosopher john locke greatly influenced Jefferson's composition of the Declaration. In particular, Locke advanced the ideas that a just government derives its legitimacy and power from the consent of the governed, that people possess inalienable rights that no legitimate government may take away, and that the people have the right and duty to overthrow a government that violates their rights. Jefferson also paralleled Locke in his identification of three major rights—the rights to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"—though the last of his three is a change from Locke's right to "property."

Jefferson himself minimized the Declaration's contribution to political philosophy. In a letter that he wrote in 1825, 50 years after the Declaration was signed, he described the document as "an appeal to the tribunal of the world." Its object, he wrote, was

[n]ot to find out new principles or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

Although the Declaration of Independence stands with the Constitution as a founding document of the United States of America, its position in U.S. law is much less certain than that of the Constitution. The Declaration has been recognized as the founding act of law establishing the United States as a sovereign and independent nation, and Congress has placed it at the beginning of the U.S. Code, under the heading "The Organic Laws of the United States of America." The Supreme Court, however, has generally not considered it a part of the organic law of the country. For example, although the Declaration mentions a right to rebellion, this right, particularly with regard to violent rebellion, has not been recognized by the Supreme Court and other branches of the federal government. The most notable failure to uphold this right occurred when the Union put down the rebellion by the Southern Confederacy in the Civil War.

Despite its secondary authority, many later reform movements have quoted the Declaration in support of their cause, including movements for universal suffrage, abolition of slavery, women's rights, and civil rights for African Americans. Many have argued that this document influenced the passage and wording of such important developments in U.S. law and government as the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, which banned slavery and sought to make African Americans equal citizens. In this way, the Declaration of Independence remains the most outstanding example of the spirit, as opposed to the letter, of U.S. law.

further readings

Cunningham, Noble E., Jr. 1987. In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State Univ. Press.

Gerber, Scott Douglas, ed. 2002. The Declaration of Independence: Origins and Impact. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Levy, Michael B. 1982. Political Thought in America. Home-wood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.

Machan, Tibor R., ed. 2001. Individual Rights Reconsidered: Are the Truths of the U.S. Declaration of Independence Lasting? Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution.

Murray, Charles. 1988. In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government. New York: Simon & Schuster.

cross-references

"Declaration of Independence" (Appendix, Primary Document); Fourteenth Amendment; Thirteenth Amendment.

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Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence, full and formal declaration adopted July 4, 1776, by representatives of the Thirteen Colonies in North America announcing the separation of those colonies from Great Britain and making them into the United States.

The Road to Its Adoption

Official acts that colonists considered infringements upon their rights had previously led to the Stamp Act Congress (1765) and to the First Continental Congress (1774), but these were predominantly conservative assemblies that sought redress from the crown and reconciliation, not independence. The overtures of the First Continental Congress in 1774 came to nothing, discontent grew, and as the armed skirmishes at Lexington and Concord (Apr. 19, 1775) developed into the American Revolution, many members of the Second Continental Congress of Philadelphia followed the leadership of John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams in demanding independence.

The delegates from Virginia and North Carolina were in fact specifically instructed on independence and on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee called for a resolution of independence. On June 11, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston (see under Livingston), and Roger Sherman were instructed to draft such a declaration; the actual writing was entrusted to Jefferson. The first draft was revised by Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson before it was sent to Congress, where it was again changed. That final draft was adopted July 4, 1776, and Independence Day has been the chief American patriotic holiday ever since. It is interesting to note, however, that the July 4 document is merely a fuller statement justifying the resolution of independence adopted by Congress on July 2, 1776.

The Declaration and Its Importance

The Declaration of Independence is the most important of all American historical documents. It is essentially a partisan document, a justification of the American Revolution presented to the world; but its unique combination of general principles and an abstract theory of government with a detailed enumeration of specific grievances and injustices has given it enduring power as one of the great political documents of the West. After stating its purpose, the opening paragraphs (given here in the form used in the engrossed copy) assert the fundamental American ideal of government, based on the theory of natural rights, which had been held by, among others, John Locke, Emerich de Vattel, and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

"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."

Then follows an indictment of George III for willfully infringing those rights in order to establish an "absolute Tyranny" over the colonies. The document states that colonial patience had achieved nothing and therefore the colonists found themselves forced to declare their independence. The stirring closing paragraph is the formal pronouncement of independence and is borrowed from the resolution of July 2.

"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."

Signers of the Declaration

Not all the men who helped draw up or voted for the Declaration signed it (Robert R. Livingston, for example, did not) nor were all the signers present at its adoption. All the signatures except six (Wythe, R. H. Lee, Wolcott, Gerry, McKean, and Thornton) were affixed on Aug. 2, 1776. The first is that of John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. The remaining 55 (see individual articles on each) are those of Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery, Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott, William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross, Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton.

Bibliography

See studies by J. H. Hazelton (1906, repr. 1970), C. L. Becker (1922, repr. 1962), and F. R. Donovan (1968); D. Malone, The Story of the Declaration of Independence (1954); D. F. Hawke, A Transaction of Free Men (1964, repr. 1989); R. Ginsberg, ed., A Casebook on the Declaration of Independence (1967); G. Wills, Inventing America (1979); J. Fliegelman, Declaring Independence (1993); P. Maier American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1997); J. N. Rakove, ed., The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence (2009); J. J. Ellis, Revolutionary Summer (2013).

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Continental Congress (Second)

CONTINENTAL CONGRESS (SECOND)


The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia's Independence Hall on May 10, 1775, shortly after the first fighting broke out in the American Revolution (17751783). England had rebuffed the proposals of the First Continental Congress (1774). In response, colonial delegates met again as the Second Continental Congress and began preparing for the fight against the Mother Country. Many of these delegates ultimately became known as founding fathers of the United StatesGeorge Washington (17321799), John Hancock (17371793), Thomas Jefferson (17431826), and Benjamin Franklin (17061790).

The Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army and named George Washington commander in chief. Although armed conflict was underway, Congress moved cautiously toward proclaiming independence from Britain. On July 10, 1775, two days after issuing a declaration to take up arms, Congress made a last appeal to England's King George III (17381820). They hoped their appeal would settle the conflict without further combat. The attempt failed. The Second Continental Congress responded by forming committees to draft the Declaration of Independence.

In their Declaration of Independence the thirteen American colonies declared their freedom from Britain and forwarded reasons for doing so. They named the "causes which impel them to the separation" and objected to the British government's violations of individual rights ("the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations" aimed at establishing "an absolute Tyranny over these States"). The opening paragraphs stated that an ideal government existed for the benefit of the people and that "all men are created equal." Thomas Jefferson, the chairman of the Second Continental Congress committee that prepared the Declaration, wrote and presented the first draft to the Congress. The Declaration was approved July 4, 1776. The thirteen colonies had proclaimed themselves the United States of America.

While the American Revolution raged, the Second Continental Congress acted as the new nation's central government. This role continued until March 1, 1781, when the Articles of Confederation, the forerunner of the U.S. Constitution (1789), were adopted. After declaring independence, the primary objective of the Second Continental Congress was financing the war. The Congress issued paper money (called Continentals), urged each of the colonies to set up its own republican government, and actively sought the support of other countries in its battle against the powerful British Empire. But since a formal constitution had not been written, the Second Continental Congress stopped short of collecting taxes from the colonies.

See also: Articles of Confederation, Continentals, European Loans, Thomas Jefferson

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Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence, 1776. Conflict in America was well advanced when Congress on 4 July 1776 adopted the Declaration of Independence. Primarily the work of Thomas Jefferson in a five-man committee, a principal objective was to facilitate an understanding with France. The celebrated ‘self-evident truths’ of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were followed by a fierce denunciation of George III—a 27-point indictment, insisting that he was ‘a tyrant unfit to be the ruler of a free people’. The drafters understood that hatred is more easily called forth if it can be personified, and though it was doubtful history, it was very effective propaganda. The list of grievances would have been longer had Congress not prudently deleted the accusation that George had vetoed attempts to abolish slavery, ‘this execrable commerce’. The declaration concluded that ‘all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.’

J. A. Cannon

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Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) Statement of the principles with which the Thirteen Colonies of North America justified the American Revolution and separation from Britain as the United States of America. Its blend of high idealism and practical statements ensured its place as one of the world's most important political documents. The Declaration was drafted by a committee that included Thomas Jefferson, and was based on the theory of natural rights propounded by John Locke to justify the Glorious Revolution in England. It was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4. The Declaration states the necessity of government having the consent of the governed, of government's responsibility to its people, and contains the famous paragraph: “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”.

http://loc.gov/const/declar.html

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Independence, Declaration of

Declaration of Independence: see Declaration of Independence.

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