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United States Declaration of Independence

United States Declaration of Independence

Overview
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 then at war with Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 put forth a resolution earlier in the year which made a formal declaration inevitable. A committee
Committee of Five
The Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress drafted and presented to the Congress what became known as America's Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776...

 was assembled to draft the formal declaration, which was to be ready when congress voted on independence.
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Encyclopedia
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 then at war with Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 put forth a resolution earlier in the year which made a formal declaration inevitable. A committee
Committee of Five
The Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress drafted and presented to the Congress what became known as America's Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776...

 was assembled to draft the formal declaration, which was to be ready when congress voted on independence. Adams persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 to compose the original draft of the document, which congress would edit to produce the final version. The Declaration was ultimately a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence
Lee Resolution
right|thumb|[[Richard Henry Lee]] proposed the resolution on June 7, 1776.The Lee Resolution, also known as the resolution of independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the United Colonies to be independent of the British Empire...

 from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

. The birthday of the United States of America
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Independence Day
Independence Day (United States)
Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain...

—is celebrated on July 4, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress.

After finalizing the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as a printed broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The most famous version of the Declaration, a signed copy that is usually regarded as the Declaration of Independence, is on display at the National Archives
National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 Although the wording of the Declaration was approved on July 4, the date of its signing has been disputed. Most historians have concluded that it was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed. The original July 4 United States Declaration of Independence manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

 was lost while all other copies have been derived from this original document.

The sources and interpretation of the Declaration have been the subject of much scholarly inquiry. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution
Right of revolution
In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the right or duty, variously stated throughout history, of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests...

. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, the text of the Declaration was initially ignored after the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. Its stature grew over the years, particularly the second sentence, a sweeping statement of human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal
All men are created equal
The quotation "All men are created equal" has been called an "immortal declaration", and "perhaps" the single phrase of the United States Revolutionary period with the greatest "continuing importance". Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase in the Declaration of Independence as a rebuttal to the...

, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence and considered by some as part of one of the most well crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language...

.


This sentence has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" and "the most potent and consequential words in American history". The passage has often been used to promote the rights of marginalized people throughout the world, and came to represent a moral standard for which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy, and argued that the Declaration is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 should be interpreted.

Background




By the time the Declaration of Independence was adopted in July 1776, the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain had been at war for more than a year. Relations between the colonies and the mother country had been deteriorating since the end of the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

 in 1763. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and so Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...

 enacted a series of measures to increase tax revenue from the colonies. Parliament believed that these acts, such as the Stamp Act
Stamp Act 1765
The Stamp Act 1765 was a direct tax imposed by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America. The act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp...

 of 1765 and the Townshend Acts
Townshend Acts
The Townshend Acts were a series of laws passed beginning in 1767 by the Parliament of Great Britain relating to the British colonies in North America. The acts are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed the program...

 of 1767, were a legitimate means of having the colonies pay their fair share of the costs to keep the colonies in the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

.

Many colonists, however, had developed a different conception of the empire. Because the colonies were not directly represented in Parliament, colonists argued that Parliament had no right to levy taxes
No taxation without representation
"No taxation without representation" is a slogan originating during the 1750s and 1760s that summarized a primary grievance of the British colonists in the Thirteen Colonies, which was one of the major causes of the American Revolution...

 upon them. This tax dispute was part of a larger divergence between British and American interpretations of the British Constitution and the extent of Parliament's authority
Authority
The word Authority is derived mainly from the Latin word auctoritas, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, or command. In English, the word 'authority' can be used to mean power given by the state or by academic knowledge of an area .-Authority in Philosophy:In...

 in the colonies. The orthodox British view, dating from the Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

 of 1688, was that Parliament was the supreme authority
Parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. In the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, a legislative body has absolute sovereignty, meaning it is supreme to all other government institutions—including any executive or judicial bodies...

 throughout the empire, and so by definition anything Parliament did was constitutional. In the colonies, however, the idea had developed that the British Constitution recognized certain fundamental rights that no government—not even Parliament—could violate. After the Townshend Acts, some essayists even began to question whether Parliament had any legitimate jurisdiction in the colonies at all. Anticipating the arrangement of the British Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

, by 1774 American writers such as Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

, James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

, and Thomas Jefferson were arguing that Parliament was the legislature of Great Britain only, and that the colonies, which had their own legislatures, were connected to the rest of the empire only through their allegiance
Allegiance
An allegiance is a duty of fidelity said to be owed by a subject or a citizen to his/her state or sovereign.-Etymology:From Middle English ligeaunce . The al- prefix was probably added through confusion with another legal term, allegeance, an "allegation"...

 to the Crown
Monarchy of the United Kingdom
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

.

Congress convenes


The issue of Parliament's authority in the colonies became a crisis after Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774 to punish the Province of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies...

 of 1773. Many colonists saw the Coercive Acts as a violation of the British Constitution and thus a threat to the liberties of all of British America
British America
For American people of British descent, see British American.British America is the anachronistic term used to refer to the territories under the control of the Crown or Parliament in present day North America , Central America, the Caribbean, and Guyana...

. In September 1774, the First Continental Congress
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

 convened in Philadelphia to coordinate a response. Congress organized a boycott of British goods and petitioned the king
Petition to the King (1774)
The Petition to the King was a petition sent to George III of Great Britain by the First Continental Congress. The petition expressed loyalty to the king and hoped for redress of grievances relating to the Intolerable Acts and other issues that helped foment the American Revolution.-Further...

 for repeal of the acts. These measures were unsuccessful because King George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

 and the ministry
Ministry (collective executive)
A ministry refers to a collective body of government ministers headed by a prime minister or premier. Although the term "cabinet" can in some circumstances be a synonym, a ministry can be a broader concept which might include office-holders that do not participate in cabinet meetings...

 of Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 Lord North
Frederick North, Lord North
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, KG, PC , more often known by his courtesy title, Lord North, which he used from 1752 until 1790, was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. He led Great Britain through most of the American War of Independence...

 were determined not to retreat on the question of parliamentary supremacy. As the king wrote to North in November 1774, "blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent".

Even after fighting in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 began at Lexington and Concord
Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. They were fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy , and Cambridge, near Boston...

 in April 1775, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain. When the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 convened at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in May 1775, some delegates hoped for eventual independence, but no one yet advocated declaring it. Although many colonists no longer believed that Parliament had any sovereignty over them, they still professed loyalty to King George, who they hoped would intercede on their behalf. They were to be disappointed: in late 1775, the king rejected Congress's second petition
Olive Branch Petition
The Olive Branch Petition was adopted by the Continental Congress in July 1775 in an attempt to avoid a full-blown war with Great Britain. The petition affirmed American loyalty to Great Britain and entreated the king to prevent further conflict...

, issued a Proclamation of Rebellion
Proclamation of Rebellion
The Proclamation of Rebellion, officially titled A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition, was the response of George III of the United Kingdom to the news of the Battle of Bunker Hill at the outset of the American Revolutionary War. Issued August 23, 1775, it declared elements of the...

, and announced before Parliament on October 26 that he was even considering "friendly offers of foreign assistance" to suppress the rebellion. A pro-American minority in Parliament warned that the government was driving the colonists toward independence.

Toward independence


In January 1776, just as it became clear in the colonies that the king was not inclined to act as a conciliator, Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

's pamphlet Common Sense
Common Sense (pamphlet)
Common Sense is a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine. It was first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, during the American Revolution. Common Sense, signed "Written by an Englishman", became an immediate success. In relation to the population of the Colonies at that time, it had the largest...

was published. Paine, who had only recently arrived in the colonies from England, argued in favor of colonial independence, advocating republicanism
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 as an alternative to monarchy and hereditary rule. Common Sense introduced no new ideas, and probably had little direct effect on Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

's thinking about independence; its importance was in stimulating public debate on a topic that few had previously dared to openly discuss. Public support for separation from Great Britain steadily increased after the publication of Paine's enormously popular pamphlet.

Although some colonists still held out hope for reconciliation, developments in early 1776 further strengthened public support for independence. In February 1776, colonists learned of Parliament's passage of the Prohibitory Act
Prohibitory Act
The Prohibitory Act 1775 was passed as a measure of retaliation by Great Britain against the general rebellion then going on in her American colonies, which became known as the American Revolutionary War...

, which established a blockade of American ports and declared American ships to be enemy vessels. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, a strong supporter of independence, believed that Parliament had effectively declared American independence before Congress had been able to. Adams labeled the Prohibitory Act the "Act of Independency", calling it "a compleat Dismemberment of the British Empire". Support for declaring independence grew even more when it was confirmed that King George had hired German mercenaries to use against his American subjects.

Despite this growing popular support for independence, Congress lacked the clear authority to declare it. Delegates had been elected to Congress by thirteen different governments—which included extralegal conventions, ad hoc committees, and elected assemblies—and were bound by the instructions given to them. Regardless of their personal opinions, delegates could not vote to declare independence unless their instructions permitted such an action. Several colonies, in fact, expressly prohibited their delegates from taking any steps towards separation from Great Britain, while other delegations had instructions that were ambiguous on the issue. As public sentiment for separation from Great Britain grew, advocates of independence sought to have the Congressional instructions revised. For Congress to declare independence, a majority of delegations would need authorization to vote for independence, and at least one colonial government would need to specifically instruct (or grant permission for) its delegation to propose a declaration of independence in Congress. Between April and July 1776, a "complex political war" was waged to bring this about.

Revising instructions


In the campaign to revise Congressional instructions, many Americans formally expressed their support for separation from Great Britain in what were effectively state and local declarations of independence. Historian Pauline Maier
Pauline Maier
Pauline Maier is a popular scholar of the American Revolution, the preceding era and post-revolutionary United States. She is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ....

 identified more than ninety such declarations that were issued throughout the Thirteen Colonies from April to July 1776. These "declarations" took a variety of forms. Some were formal, written instructions for Congressional delegations, such as the Halifax Resolves
Halifax Resolves
The Halifax Resolves is the name later given to a resolution adopted by the Fourth Provincial Congress of the Province of North Carolina on April 12, 1776, during the American Revolution...

 of April 12, with which North Carolina became the first colony to explicitly authorize its delegates to vote for independence. Others were legislative acts that officially ended British rule in individual colonies, such as on May 4, when the Rhode Island legislature became the first to declare its independence from Great Britain. Many "declarations" were resolutions adopted at town or county meetings that offered support for independence. A few came in the form of jury instructions, such as the statement issued on April 23, 1776, by Chief Justice William Henry Drayton
William Henry Drayton
Other notable men have similar names, see: William Drayton .William Henry Drayton was an American planter and lawyer from Charleston, South Carolina...

 of South Carolina: "the law of the land authorizes me to declare...that George the Third, King of Great Britain...has no authority over us, and we owe no obedience to him." Most of these declarations are now obscure, having been overshadowed by the declaration approved by Congress on July 4.

Some colonies held back from endorsing independence. Resistance was centered in the middle colonies
Middle Colonies
The Middle Colonies comprised the middle region of the Thirteen Colonies of the British Empire in Northern America. In 1776 during the American Revolution, the Middle Colonies became independent of Britain as the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware.Much of the area was part of...

 of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Advocates of independence saw Pennsylvania as the key: if that colony could be converted to the pro-independence cause, it was believed that the others would follow. On May 1, however, opponents of independence retained control of the Pennsylvania Assembly in a special election that had focused on the question of independence. In response, on May 10 Congress passed a resolution, which had been promoted by John Adams and Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee was an American statesman from Virginia best known for the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation and his famous resolution of June 1776 led to the United States...

, calling on colonies without a "government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs" to adopt new governments. The resolution passed unanimously, and was even supported by Pennsylvania's John Dickinson
John Dickinson (delegate)
John Dickinson was an American lawyer and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. He was a militia officer during the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of...

, the leader of the anti-independence faction in Congress, who believed that it did not apply to his colony.

May 15 preamble


As was the custom, Congress appointed a committee to draft a preamble
Preamble
A preamble is an introductory and expressionary statement in a document that explains the document's purpose and underlying philosophy. When applied to the opening paragraphs of a statute, it may recite historical facts pertinent to the subject of the statute...

 that would explain the purpose of the resolution. John Adams wrote the preamble, which stated that because King George had rejected reconciliation and was even hiring foreign mercenaries to use against the colonies, "it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed". Everyone understood that Adams's preamble was meant to encourage the overthrow of the governments of Pennsylvania and Maryland, which were still under proprietary
Proprietary colony
A proprietary colony was a colony in which one or more individuals, usually land owners, remaining subject to their parent state's sanctions, retained rights that are today regarded as the privilege of the state, and in all cases eventually became so....

 governance. Congress passed the preamble on May 15 after several days of debate, but four of the middle colonies voted against it, and the Maryland delegation walked out in protest. Adams regarded his May 15 preamble as effectively an American declaration of independence, although he knew that a formal declaration would still have to be made.

Lee's resolution and the final push


On the same day that Congress passed Adams's radical preamble, the Virginia Convention
Virginia Conventions
The Virginia Conventions were a series of five political meetings in the Colony of Virginia during the American Revolution. Because the House of Burgesses had been dissolved in 1774 by Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, the conventions served as a revolutionary provisional government until the...

 set the stage for a formal Congressional declaration of independence. On May 15, the Convention instructed Virginia's congressional delegation "to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain". In accordance with those instructions, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a three-part resolution
Lee Resolution
right|thumb|[[Richard Henry Lee]] proposed the resolution on June 7, 1776.The Lee Resolution, also known as the resolution of independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the United Colonies to be independent of the British Empire...

 to Congress on June 7. The motion, which was seconded by John Adams, called on Congress to declare independence, form foreign alliances, and prepare a plan of colonial confederation. The part of the resolution relating to declaring independence read:

Resolved, 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.


Lee's resolution met with resistance in the ensuing debate. Opponents of the resolution, while conceding that reconciliation with Great Britain was unlikely, argued that declaring independence was premature, and that securing foreign aid should take priority. Advocates of the resolution countered that foreign governments would not intervene in an internal British struggle, and so a formal declaration of independence was needed before foreign aid was possible. All Congress needed to do, they insisted, was to "declare a fact which already exists". Delegates from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York were still not yet authorized to vote for independence, however, and some of them threatened to leave Congress if the resolution were adopted. Congress therefore voted on June 10 to postpone further discussion of Lee's resolution for three weeks. Until then, Congress decided that a committee should prepare a document announcing and explaining independence in the event that Lee's resolution was approved when it was brought up again in July.

Support for a Congressional declaration of independence was consolidated in the final weeks of June 1776. On June 14, the Connecticut Assembly instructed its delegates to propose independence, and the following day the legislatures of New Hampshire and Delaware authorized their delegates to declare independence. In Pennsylvania, political struggles ended with the dissolution of the colonial assembly, and on June 18 a new Conference of Committees under Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution he was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of...

 authorized Pennsylvania's delegates to declare independence. On June 15, the Provincial Congress of New Jersey
Provincial Congress of New Jersey
The Provincial Congress of New Jersey was a transitional governing body of the Province of New Jersey in the early part of the American Revolution. It first met in 1775 with representatives from all New Jersey's then-thirteen counties, to supersede the Royal Governor...

, which had been governing the province since January 1776, resolved that Royal Governor
Royal governor
Royal governor is an informal term used to refer to a colonial or provincial Governor, or by extension a Governor-General or similar gubernatorial official, appointed by a king or other monarch....

 William Franklin
William Franklin
William Franklin was an American soldier and colonial administrator. He served as the last Colonial Governor of New Jersey. Franklin was a steadfast Loyalist throughout the American War of Independence, despite his father Benjamin Franklin's role as one of the most prominent Patriots during the...

 was "an enemy to the liberties of this country" and had him arrested. On June 21, they chose new delegates to Congress and empowered them to join in a declaration of independence.

Only Maryland and New York had yet to authorize independence. When the Continental Congress had adopted Adams's radical May 15 preamble, Maryland's delegates walked out and sent to the Maryland Convention for instructions. On May 20, the Maryland Convention rejected Adams's preamble, instructing its delegates to remain against independence, but Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and earlier was a signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Maryland. Early in life, Chase was a "firebrand" states-righter and revolutionary...

 went to Maryland and, thanks to local resolutions in favor of independence, was able to get the Maryland Convention to change its mind on June 28. Only the New York delegates were unable to get revised instructions. When Congress had been considering the resolution of independence on June 8, the New York Provincial Congress
New York Provincial Congress
The New York Provincial Congress was an organization formed by rebels in 1775, during the American Revolution, as a pro-rebellion alternative to the more conservative Province of New York Assembly, and as a replacement for the Committee of One Hundred.A Provincial Convention assembled in New York...

 told the delegates to wait. But on June 30, the Provincial Congress evacuated New York as British forces approached, and would not convene again until July 10. This meant that New York's delegates would not be authorized to declare independence until after Congress had made its decision.

Draft and adoption


While political maneuvering was setting the stage for an official declaration of independence, a document explaining the decision was being written. On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a "Committee of Five
Committee of Five
The Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress drafted and presented to the Congress what became known as America's Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776...

", consisting of John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston
Robert Livingston (1746-1813)
Robert R Livingston was an American lawyer, politician, diplomat from New York, and a Founding Father of the United States. He was known as "The Chancellor," after the office he held for 25 years....

 of New York, and Roger Sherman
Roger Sherman
Roger Sherman was an early American lawyer and politician, as well as a founding father. He served as the first mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, and served on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and was also a representative and senator in the new republic...

 of Connecticut, to draft a declaration. Because the committee left no minutes, there is some uncertainty about how the drafting process proceeded—accounts written many years later by Jefferson and Adams, although frequently cited, are contradictory and not entirely reliable. What is certain is that the committee, after discussing the general outline that the document should follow, decided that Jefferson would write the first draft. The committee in general, and Jefferson in particular, thought Adams should write the document, but Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson and promised to consult with Jefferson personally. Considering Congress's busy schedule, Jefferson probably had limited time for writing over the next seventeen days, and likely wrote the draft quickly. He then consulted the others, made some changes, and then produced another copy incorporating these alterations. The committee presented this copy to the Congress on June 28, 1776. The title of the document was "A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled." Congress ordered that the draft "lie on the table
Table (parliamentary)
In parliamentary procedure, a motion to table has two different and contradictory meanings:*In the United States, table usually means the motion to lay on the table or motion to postpone consideration; a proposal to suspend consideration of a pending motion...

".

On Monday, July 1, having tabled the draft of the declaration, Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole
Committee of the Whole
A Committee of the Whole is a device in which a legislative body or other deliberative assembly is considered one large committee. All members of the legislative body are members of such a committee...

, with Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison V
Benjamin Harrison V was an American planter and revolutionary leader from Charles City County, Virginia. He earned his higher education at the College of William and Mary, and he was perhaps the first figure in the Harrison family to gain national attention...

 of Virginia presiding, and resumed debate on Lee's resolution of independence. John Dickinson
John Dickinson (delegate)
John Dickinson was an American lawyer and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. He was a militia officer during the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of...

 made one last effort to delay the decision, arguing that Congress should not declare independence without first securing a foreign alliance and finalizing the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

. John Adams gave a speech in reply to Dickinson, restating the case for an immediate declaration.

After a long day of speeches, a vote was taken. As always, each colony cast a single vote; the delegation for each colony—numbering two to seven members—voted amongst themselves to determine the colony's vote. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against declaring independence. The New York delegation, lacking permission to vote for independence, abstained. Delaware cast no vote because the delegation was split between Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution he was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of...

 (who voted yes) and George Read
George Read (signer)
George Read was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle in New Castle County, Delaware. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a Continental Congressman from Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of Delaware, and a member of the...

 (who voted no). The remaining nine delegations voted in favor of independence, which meant that the resolution had been approved by the committee of the whole. The next step was for the resolution to be voted upon by the Congress itself. Edward Rutledge
Edward Rutledge
Edward Rutledge was an American politician and youngest signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. He later served as the 39th Governor of South Carolina.-Early years and career:...

 of South Carolina, who was opposed to Lee's resolution but desirous of unanimity, moved that the vote be postponed until the following day.
On July 2, South Carolina reversed its position and voted for independence. In the Pennsylvania delegation, Dickinson and Robert Morris abstained, allowing the delegation to vote three-to-two in favor of independence. The tie in the Delaware delegation was broken by the timely arrival of Caesar Rodney
Caesar Rodney
Caesar Rodney was an American lawyer and politician from St. Jones Neck in Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, east of Dover...

, who voted for independence. The New York delegation abstained once again, since they were still not authorized to vote for independence, although they would be allowed to do so by the New York Provincial Congress
New York Provincial Congress
The New York Provincial Congress was an organization formed by rebels in 1775, during the American Revolution, as a pro-rebellion alternative to the more conservative Province of New York Assembly, and as a replacement for the Committee of One Hundred.A Provincial Convention assembled in New York...

 a week later. The resolution of independence had been adopted with twelve affirmative votes and one abstention. With this, the colonies had officially severed political ties with Great Britain. In a now-famous letter written to his wife on the following day, John Adams predicted that July 2 would become a great American holiday. Adams thought that the vote for independence would be commemorated; he did not foresee that Americans—including himself—would instead celebrate Independence Day
Independence Day (United States)
Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain...

 on the date that the announcement of that act was finalized.

After voting in favor of the resolution of independence, Congress turned its attention to the committee's draft of the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a few changes in wording and deleted nearly a fourth of the text, most notably a passage critical of the slave trade
Atlantic slave trade
The Atlantic slave trade, also known as the trans-atlantic slave trade, refers to the trade in slaves that took place across the Atlantic ocean from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries...

, changes that Jefferson resented. On July 4, 1776, the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved and sent to the printer for publication.

Text




The first sentence of the Declaration asserts as a matter of Natural law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

 the ability of a people to assume political independence, and acknowledges that the grounds for such independence must be reasonable.

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
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

 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.


The next section, the famous preamble, includes the ideas and ideals that were principles of the Declaration. It is also an assertion of what is known as the "right of revolution
Right of revolution
In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the right or duty, variously stated throughout history, of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests...

": that is, people have certain rights, and when a government violates these rights, the people have the right to "alter or abolish" that government.

We hold these truths to be self-evident
Self-evidence
In epistemology , a self-evident proposition is one that is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof....

, that all men are created equal
All men are created equal
The quotation "All men are created equal" has been called an "immortal declaration", and "perhaps" the single phrase of the United States Revolutionary period with the greatest "continuing importance". Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase in the Declaration of Independence as a rebuttal to the...

, that they are endowed by their Creator
Creator deity
A creator deity is a deity responsible for the creation of the world . In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator deity, while polytheistic traditions may or may not have creator deities...

 with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence and considered by some as part of one of the most well crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language...

.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
Consent of the governed
"Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised...

, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it
Right of revolution
In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the right or duty, variously stated throughout history, of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests...

, 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
Despotism
Despotism is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy...

, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


The next section is a list of charges against King George III, which aim to demonstrate that he has violated the colonists' rights and is therefore unfit to be their ruler:

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
Royal Assent
The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury
Jury trial
A jury trial is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact which are then applied by a judge...

:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws
Quebec Act
The Quebec Act of 1774 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain setting procedures of governance in the Province of Quebec...

 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
Perfidy
In the context of war, perfidy is a form of deception, in which one side promises to act in good faith with the intention of breaking that promise once the enemy has exposed himself .The practice is specifically prohibited under the 1977 Protocol I Additional to the...

 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
Impressment
Impressment, colloquially, "the Press", was the act of taking men into a navy by force and without notice. It was used by the Royal Navy, beginning in 1664 and during the 18th and early 19th centuries, in wartime, as a means of crewing warships, although legal sanction for the practice goes back to...

 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.


Many Americans still felt a kinship with the people of Great Britain, and had appealed in vain to the prominent among them, as well as to Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland...

, to convince the King to relax his more objectionable policies toward the colonies. The next section represents disappointment that these attempts had been unsuccessful.

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.


In the final section, the signers assert that there exist conditions under which people must change their government, that the British have produced such conditions, and by necessity the colonies must throw off political ties with the British Crown and become independent states. The conclusion incorporates language from Lee's resolution of independence that had been passed on 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
The Crown
The Crown is a corporation sole that in the Commonwealth realms and any provincial or state sub-divisions thereof represents the legal embodiment of governance, whether executive, legislative, or judicial...

, 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.

Influences


Historians have often sought to identify the sources that most influenced the words and political philosophy
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

 of the Declaration of Independence. By Jefferson's own admission, the Declaration contained no original ideas, but was instead a statement of sentiments widely shared by supporters of the American Revolution. As he explained in 1825:

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.


Jefferson's most immediate sources were two documents written in June 1776: his own draft of the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia
Constitution of Virginia
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia is the document that defines and limits the powers of the state government and the basic rights of the citizens of the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia. Like all other state constitutions, it is supreme over Virginia's laws and acts of government,...

, and George Mason
George Mason
George Mason IV was an American Patriot, statesman and a delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention...

's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights
Virginia Declaration of Rights
The Virginia Declaration of Rights is a document drafted in 1776 to proclaim the inherent rights of men, including the right to rebel against "inadequate" government...

. Ideas and phrases from both of these documents appear in the Declaration of Independence. They were, in turn, directly influenced by the 1689 English Declaration of Rights
Bill of Rights 1689
The Bill of Rights or the Bill of Rights 1688 is an Act of the Parliament of England.The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament on 16 December 1689. It was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1689 ,...

, which formally ended the reign of King James II
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

. During the American Revolution, Jefferson and other Americans looked to the English Declaration of Rights as a model of how to end the reign of an unjust king. The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath
Declaration of Arbroath
The Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, made in 1320. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320, intended to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland's right to use military action when...

 (1320) and the Dutch Act of Abjuration (1581) have also been offered as models for Jefferson's Declaration, but these arguments have been disputed.

Jefferson wrote that a number of authors exerted a general influence on the words of the Declaration. The English political theorist John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

, whom Jefferson called one of "the three greatest men that have ever lived", is usually cited as one of the primary influences. In 1922, historian Carl L. Becker
Carl L. Becker
Carl Lotus Becker was an American historian.-Life:He was born in Waterloo, Iowa. He studied at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Frederick Jackson Turner was his doctoral advisor there. Becker got his Ph.D. in 1907. He was John Wendell Anderson Professor of History in the Department of History...

 wrote that "Most Americans had absorbed Locke's works as a kind of political gospel; and the Declaration, in its form, in its phraseology, follows closely certain sentences in Locke's second treatise on government
Two Treatises of Government
The Two Treatises of Government is a work of political philosophy published anonymously in 1689 by John Locke...

." The extent of Locke's influence on the American Revolution has been questioned by some subsequent scholars, however. Historian Ray Forrest Harvey declared in 1937, as he argued for the dominant influence of the Swiss jurist Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, that Jefferson and Locke were at "two opposite poles" in their political philosophy, as evidenced by Jefferson's use in the Declaration of Independence of the phrase "pursuit of happiness" instead of "property." Other scholars emphasized the influence of republicanism
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 rather than Locke's classical liberalism
Classical liberalism
Classical liberalism is the philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets....

. Historian Garry Wills
Garry Wills
Garry Wills is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and prolific author, journalist, and historian, specializing in American politics, American political history and ideology and the Roman Catholic Church. Classically trained at a Jesuit high school and two universities, he is proficient in Greek and Latin...

 argued that Jefferson was influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment
Scottish Enlightenment
The Scottish Enlightenment was the period in 18th century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By 1750, Scots were among the most literate citizens of Europe, with an estimated 75% level of literacy...

, particularly Francis Hutcheson
Francis Hutcheson (philosopher)
Francis Hutcheson was a philosopher born in Ireland to a family of Scottish Presbyterians who became one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightenment....

, rather than Locke, an interpretation that has been strongly criticized.

Legal historian John Phillip Reid has written that the emphasis on the political philosophy of the Declaration has been misplaced. The Declaration is not a philosophical tract about natural rights, argues Reid, but is instead a legal document—an indictment
Indictment
An indictment , in the common-law legal system, is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that lack the concept of felonies often use that of an indictable offence—an...

 against King George for violating the constitutional rights of the colonists. In contrast, historian Dennis J. Mahoney argues that the Declaration is not a legal document at all, but a philosophical document influenced by Emerich de Vattel
Emerich de Vattel
Emer de Vattel was a Swiss philosopher, diplomat, and legal expert whose theories laid the foundation of modern international law and political philosophy. He was born in Couvet in Neuchatel, Switzerland in 1714 and died in 1767 of edema...

, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui
Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui
Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui was a Swiss legal and political theorist, who popularised a number of ideas propounded by other thinkers.-Life:...

, and Samuel Pufendorf. Historian David Armitage
David Armitage (historian)
- Life and research :Armitage studies imperial, international, and intellectual history at Harvard University where he is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History. Armitage graduated from the University of Cambridge, and spent 2000 and 2001 on a fellowship at Harvard, before moving there from...

 has argued that the Declaration is a document of international law
International law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

. According to Armitage, the Declaration was strongly influenced by de Vattel's The Law of Nations, a book that Benjamin Franklin said was "continually in the hands of the members of our Congress". Armitage writes that because "Vattel made independence fundamental to his definition of statehood", the primary purpose of the Declaration was "to express the international legal sovereignty of the United States". If the United States were to have any hope of being recognized by the European powers, the American revolutionaries had to first make it clear that they were no longer dependent on Great Britain.

Signing


The handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence that was signed by Congress is dated July 4, 1776. The signatures of fifty-six delegates are affixed; however, whether or not Congress actually signed the document on this date has long been the subject of debate. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams all wrote that the Declaration had been signed by Congress on July 4. But in 1796, signer Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution he was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of...

 disputed that the Declaration had been signed on July 4, pointing out that some signers were not then present, including several who were not even elected to Congress until after that date.

According to the 1911 record of events by the U.S. State Department
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

, under Sec. Philander C. Knox
Philander C. Knox
Philander Chase Knox was an American lawyer and politician who served as United States Attorney General , a Senator from Pennsylvania and Secretary of State ....

, the Declaration was transposed on paper, adopted by the Continental Congress, and signed by John Hancock
John Hancock
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

, President of the Congress, on July 4, 1776. On August 2, 1776 a parchment paper copy of the Declaration was signed by 56 persons. Many of these signers were not present when the original Declaration was adopted on July 4. One signer, Matthew Thornton
Matthew Thornton
Matthew Thornton , was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of New Hampshire.- Background and Early Life :He was born in Ireland, the son of James Thornton and Elizabeth Malone...

, from New Hampshire
New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...

, who agreed to the Declaration and having joined the Continental Congress, signed on November 4, 1776.

Historians have generally accepted McKean's version of events, arguing that the famous signed version of the Declaration was created after July 19 and was not signed by Congress until August 2. In 1986, legal historian Wilfred Ritz argued that historians had misunderstood the primary documents and given too much credence to McKean, who had not been present in Congress on July 4. According to Ritz, about thirty-four delegates signed the Declaration on July 4, and the others signed on or after August 2. Historians who reject a July 4 signing maintain that most delegates signed on August 2, and that those eventual signers who were not present added their names later.
The most famous signature on the engrossed copy is that of John Hancock
John Hancock
John Hancock was a merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

, who, as President of Congress
President of the Continental Congress
The President of the Continental Congress was the presiding officer of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates that emerged as the first national government of the United States during the American Revolution...

, presumably signed first. Hancock's large, flamboyant signature became iconic, and John Hancock emerged in the United States as an informal synonym for "signature". Two future U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were among the signatories.

Various legends about the signing of the Declaration emerged years later, when the document had become an important national symbol. In one famous story, John Hancock supposedly said that Congress, having signed the Declaration, must now "all hang together", and Benjamin Franklin replied: "Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." The quote did not appear in print until more than fifty years after Franklin's death.

Publication and reaction


After Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration on July 4, a handwritten copy was sent a few blocks away to the printing shop of John Dunlap
John Dunlap
John Dunlap was the printer of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence and one of the most successful American printers of his era.-Biography:...

. Through the night Dunlap printed about 200 broadsides
Broadside (printing)
A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on one side only. Historically, broadsides were posters, announcing events or proclamations, or simply advertisements...

 for distribution. Before long, the Declaration was read to audiences and reprinted in newspapers across the thirteen states. The first official public reading of the document was by John Nixon
John Nixon (financier)
John Nixon was a financier and official from Philadelphia who served as a militia officer in the American Revolutionary War.He was born in Philadelphia, the son of a shipping merchant...

 in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8; public readings also took place on that day in Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is the capital of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913...

, and Easton, Pennsylvania
Easton, Pennsylvania
Easton is a city in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, United States. The population was 26,800 as of the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Northampton County....

. A German translation of the Declaration was published in Philadelphia by July 9.

President of Congress John Hancock sent a broadside to General George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, instructing him to have it proclaimed "at the Head of the Army in the way you shall think it most proper". Washington had the Declaration read to his troops in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 on July 9, with the British forces not far away. Washington and Congress hoped the Declaration would inspire the soldiers, and encourage others to join the army. After hearing the Declaration, crowds in many cities tore down and destroyed signs or statues representing royalty. An equestrian statue of King George in New York City was pulled down and the lead used to make musket balls.
British officials in North America sent copies of the Declaration to Great Britain. It was published in British newspapers beginning in mid-August; translations appeared in European newspapers soon after. The North Ministry
North Ministry
The North Ministry governed the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1770 until 1782. Overseeing in this time the Falklands Crisis, the Gordon Riots and much of the American War of Independence. It was headed by the Tory politician Lord North and served under George III.-Membership:...

 did not give an official answer to the Declaration, but instead secretly commissioned pamphleteer John Lind
John Lind (barrister)
John Lind was an English barrister, political activist, and pamphleteer who opposed the American Revolution.He was educated at Balliol College of Oxford, receiving an MA in 1761. He also began a long association and friendship with Jeremy Bentham there.He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries...

 to publish a response, which was entitled Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress. British Tories denounced the signers of the Declaration for not applying the same principles of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to African Americans. Thomas Hutchinson, the former royal governor of Massachusetts, also published a rebuttal. These pamphlets challenged various aspects of the Declaration. Hutchinson argued that the American Revolution was the work of a few conspirators who wanted independence from the outset, and who had finally achieved it by inducing otherwise loyal colonists to rebel. Lind's pamphlet included an anonymous attack on the concept of natural rights
Natural rights
Natural and legal rights are two types of rights theoretically distinct according to philosophers and political scientists. Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable...

 written by Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism...

, an argument he would repeat during the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

. Both pamphlets asked how slave owners in Congress could proclaim that "all men are created equal" without then freeing their own slaves.

Slaves in America became infatuated with the Declaration's principles of freedom and equality and desired the right to "own themselves". In 1778, the call for freedom was great as 30,000 slaves in Virginia fled their slave masters, according to Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

. 4,000 to 5,000 African Americans served in the Continental Army fighting for American Independence. Slaves were given freedom by enlisting into the Continental Army; 5% of George Washington's forces consisted of African American troops. In 1780, slaves in New York were emboldened, pushed for their own freedom, and took the revolutionary phrases found in the Declaration seriously. One American slave owner and signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Whipple
William Whipple
William Whipple, Jr. was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of New Hampshire....

, who fought in the American War of Independence, freed his slave, Prince Whipple
Prince Whipple
Prince Whipple was an African American slave who accompanied his owner, General William Whipple of the New Hampshire militia, during the American Revolutionary War.- Early life :William C...

, having believed he could not fight for liberty and own a slave. Prince Whipple was one of George Washington's oarsmen as Washington crossed the Delaware River in the Winter of 1776. Having fought for American Independence, however, freed African Americans were denied voting rights and needed a pass to travel between the states.

History of the documents


The copy of the Declaration that was signed by Congress is known as the engrossed or parchment
Parchment
Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

 copy. It was probably engrossed (that is, carefully handwritten) by clerk Timothy Matlack
Timothy Matlack
Timothy Matlack was a merchant, surveyor, architect, statesman, and patriot in the American Revolution. A delegate from Pennsylvania to the Second Continental Congress in 1780, he emerged during the Revolutionary period as one of Pennsylvania's most provocative and influential political...

. Because of poor conservation of the engrossed copy through the 19th century, a facsimile made in 1823, rather than the original, has become the basis of most modern reproductions. In 1921, custody of the engrossed copy of the Declaration, along with the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, was transferred from the State Department
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 to the Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 in 1941, the documents were moved for safekeeping to the United States Bullion Depository
United States Bullion Depository
The United States Bullion Depository, often known as Fort Knox, is a fortified vault building located adjacent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, used to store a large portion of United States official gold reserves and occasionally other precious items belonging or entrusted to the federal government.The...

 at Fort Knox
Fort Knox
Fort Knox is a United States Army post in Kentucky south of Louisville and north of Elizabethtown. The base covers parts of Bullitt, Hardin, and Meade counties. It currently holds the Army Human Resources Center of Excellence to include the Army Human Resources Command, United States Army Cadet...

 in Kentucky, where they were kept until 1944. In 1952, the engrossed Declaration was transferred to the National Archives
National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives...

, and is now on permanent display at the National Archives in the "Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom
Charters of Freedom
The term Charters of Freedom is used to describe the three documents in early American history which are considered instrumental to its founding and philosophy. These documents are the United States Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights...

".

Although the document signed by Congress and enshrined in the National Archives is usually regarded as the Declaration of Independence, historian Julian P. Boyd
Julian P. Boyd
Julian Parks Boyd CBE was Professor of history at Princeton University. He served as president of the American Historical Association in 1964. For his efforts in preserving the site of the Battle of Hastings, he was appointed an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire.He edited The...

 argued that the Declaration, like Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

, is not a single document. Boyd considered the printed broadsides ordered by Congress to be official texts as well. The Declaration was first published as a broadside that was printed the night of July 4 by John Dunlap
John Dunlap
John Dunlap was the printer of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence and one of the most successful American printers of his era.-Biography:...

 of Philadelphia. Dunlap printed about 200 broadsides, of which 26 are known to survive. The 26th copy was discovered in The National Archives in England in 2009. In 1777, Congress commissioned Mary Katherine Goddard
Mary Katherine Goddard
Mary Katherine Goddard was an early American publisher and the first American postmistress. She was the first to print the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signatories....

 to print a new broadside that, unlike the Dunlap broadside, listed the signers of the Declaration. Nine copies of the Goddard broadside are known to still exist. A variety of broadsides printed by the states are also extant.

Several early handwritten copies and drafts of the Declaration have also been preserved. Jefferson kept a four-page draft that late in life he called the "original Rough draught". How many drafts Jefferson wrote prior to this one, and how much of the text was contributed by other committee members, is unknown. In 1947, Boyd discovered a fragment of an earlier draft in Jefferson's handwriting. Jefferson and Adams sent copies of the rough draft, with slight variations, to friends.

During the writing process, Jefferson showed the rough draft to Adams and Franklin, and perhaps other members of the drafting committee, who made a few more changes. Franklin, for example, may have been responsible for changing Jefferson's original phrase "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable" to "We hold these truths to be self-evident". Jefferson incorporated these changes into a copy that was submitted to Congress in the name of the committee. The copy that was submitted to Congress on June 28 has been lost, and was perhaps destroyed in the printing process, or destroyed during the debates in accordance with Congress's secrecy rule.

Legacy


Having served its original purpose in announcing the independence of the United States, the Declaration was initially neglected in the years immediately following the American Revolution. Early celebrations of Independence Day
Independence Day (United States)
Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain...

, like early histories of the Revolution, largely ignored the Declaration. Although the act of declaring independence was considered important, the text announcing that act attracted little attention. The Declaration was rarely mentioned during the debates about the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, and its language was not incorporated into that document. George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was more influential, and its language was echoed in state constitutions and state bills of rights more often than Jefferson's words. "In none of these documents", wrote Pauline Maier, "is there any evidence whatsoever that the Declaration of Independence lived in men's minds as a classic statement of American political principles."

Influence in other countries


Some leaders of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 admired the Declaration of Independence but were more interested in the new American state constitutions. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) borrowed language from George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights and not Jefferson's Declaration, although Jefferson was in Paris at the time and was consulted during the drafting process. According to historian David Armitage
David Armitage (historian)
- Life and research :Armitage studies imperial, international, and intellectual history at Harvard University where he is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History. Armitage graduated from the University of Cambridge, and spent 2000 and 2001 on a fellowship at Harvard, before moving there from...

, the United States Declaration of Independence did prove to be internationally influential, but not as a statement of human rights. Armitage argued that the Declaration was the first in a new genre of declarations of independence
Declaration of independence
A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state or states. Such places are usually declared from part or all of the territory of another nation or failed nation, or are breakaway territories from within the larger state...

 that announced the creation of new states.

Other French leaders were directly influenced by the text of the Declaration of Independence itself. The Manifesto of the Province of Flanders (1790) was the first foreign derivation of the Declaration; others include the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence
Venezuelan Declaration of Independence
The Venezuelan Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by a congress of Venezuelan provinces on July 5, 1811 through which Venezuelans made the decision to break away from the Spanish Crown in order to establish a new nation based on the premises of equality of individuals, abolition of...

 (1811), the Liberian Declaration of Independence
Liberian Declaration of Independence
The Liberian Declaration of Independence is a document adopted by the Liberian Constitutional Convention on 16 July 1847 to announce that the Commonwealth of Liberia, a colony founded and controlled by the private American Colonization Society, was now an independent state known as the Republic of...

 (1847), the declarations of secession by the Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 (1860–61), and the Vietnam Declaration of Independence (1945). These declarations echoed the United States Declaration of Independence in announcing the independence of a new state, without necessarily endorsing the political philosophy of the original.

Revival of interest


In the United States, interest in the Declaration was revived in the 1790s with the emergence of America's first political parties
First Party System
The First Party System is a model of American politics used by political scientists and historians to periodize the political party system existing in the United States between roughly 1792 and 1824. It featured two national parties competing for control of the presidency, Congress, and the states:...

. Throughout the 1780s, few Americans knew, or cared, who wrote the Declaration. But in the next decade, Jeffersonian Republicans sought political advantage over their rival Federalists by promoting both the importance of the Declaration and Jefferson as its author. Federalists responded by casting doubt on Jefferson's authorship or originality, and by emphasizing that independence was declared by the whole Congress, with Jefferson as just one member of the drafting committee. Federalists insisted that Congress's act of declaring independence, in which Federalist John Adams had played a major role, was more important than the document announcing that act. But this view, like the Federalist Party, would fade away, and before long the act of declaring independence would become synonymous with the document.

A less partisan appreciation for the Declaration emerged in the years following the War of 1812, thanks to a growing American nationalism and a renewed interest in the history of the Revolution. In 1817, Congress commissioned John Trumbull
John Trumbull
John Trumbull was an American artist during the period of the American Revolutionary War and was notable for his historical paintings...

's famous painting
Trumbull's Declaration of Independence
John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence is a 12-by-18-foot oil-on-canvas painting in the United States Capitol Rotunda that depicts the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress...

 of the signers, which was exhibited to large crowds before being installed in the Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

. The earliest commemorative printings of the Declaration also appeared at this time, offering many Americans their first view of the signed document. Collective biographies of the signers were first published in the 1820s, giving birth to what Garry Wills called the "cult of the signers". In the years that followed, many stories about the writing and signing of the document would be published for the first time.

When interest in the Declaration was revived, the sections that were most important in 1776—the announcement of the independence of the United States and the grievances against King George—were no longer relevant. But the second paragraph, with its talk of self-evident truths and unalienable rights, were applicable long after the war had ended. Because the Constitution and the Bill of Rights lacked sweeping statements about rights and equality, advocates of marginalized groups turned to the Declaration for support. Starting in the 1820s, variations of the Declaration were issued to proclaim the rights of workers, farmers, women, and others. In 1848, for example, the Seneca Falls Convention
Seneca Falls Convention
The Seneca Falls Convention was an early and influential women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, July 19–20, 1848. It was organized by local New York women upon the occasion of a visit by Boston-based Lucretia Mott, a Quaker famous for her speaking ability, a skill rarely...

, a meeting of women's rights advocates, declared
Declaration of Sentiments
The Declaration of Sentiments, also known as the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, is a document signed in 1848 by 68 women and 32 men, 100 out of some 300 attendees at the first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, now known as the Seneca Falls Convention...

 that "all men and women are created equal".

Slavery and the Declaration



The Declaration would have its most prominent influence on the debate over slavery. The contradiction between the claim that "all men are created equal" and the existence of American slavery attracted comment when the Declaration was first published. As mentioned above, although Jefferson had included a paragraph in his initial draft that strongly indicted Britain's role in the slave trade, this was deleted from the final version. Jefferson himself was a prominent Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 slave holder having owned hundreds of slaves. Referring to this seeming contradiction, English abolitionist Thomas Day
Thomas Day
Thomas Day was a British author and abolitionist. He was well-known for the children's book The History of Sandford and Merton which emphasized Rousseauvian educational ideals.-Life and works:...

 wrote in a 1776 letter, "If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves." In the 19th century, the Declaration took on a special significance for the abolitionist movement. Historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown wrote that "abolitionists tended to interpret the Declaration of Independence as a theological as well as a political document". Abolitionist leaders Benjamin Lundy
Benjamin Lundy
Benjamin Lundy was an American Quaker abolitionist from Ohio who established several anti-slavery newspapers and worked for many others...

 and William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer. He is best known as the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and as one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he promoted "immediate emancipation" of slaves in the United...

 adopted the "twin rocks" of "the Bible and the Declaration of Independence" as the basis for their philosophies. "As long as there remains a single copy of the Declaration of Independence, or of the Bible, in our land," wrote Garrison, "we will not despair." For radical abolitionists like Garrison, the most important part of the Declaration was its assertion of the right of revolution
Right of revolution
In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the right or duty, variously stated throughout history, of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests...

: Garrison called for the destruction of the government under the Constitution, and the creation of a new state dedicated to the principles of the Declaration.

The controversial question of whether to add additional slave state
Slave state
In the United States of America prior to the American Civil War, a slave state was a U.S. state in which slavery was legal, whereas a free state was one in which slavery was either prohibited from its entry into the Union or eliminated over time...

s to the United States coincided with the growing stature of the Declaration. The first major public debate about slavery and the Declaration took place during the Missouri controversy
Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30'...

 of 1819 to 1821. Antislavery Congressmen argued that the language of the Declaration indicated that the Founding Fathers of the United States
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

 had been opposed to slavery in principle, and so new slave states should not be added to the country. Proslavery Congressmen, led by Senator Nathaniel Macon
Nathaniel Macon
Nathaniel Macon was a spokesman for the Old Republican faction of the Democratic-Republican Party that wanted to strictly limit the United States federal government. Macon was born near Warrenton, North Carolina, and attended the College of New Jersey and served briefly in the American...

 of North Carolina, argued that since the Declaration was not a part of the Constitution, it had no relevance to the question.

With the antislavery movement gaining momentum, defenders of slavery such as John Randolph
John Randolph of Roanoke
John Randolph , known as John Randolph of Roanoke, was a planter and a Congressman from Virginia, serving in the House of Representatives , the Senate , and also as Minister to Russia...

 and John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun
John Caldwell Calhoun was a leading politician and political theorist from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun eloquently spoke out on every issue of his day, but often changed positions. Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent...

 found it necessary to argue that the Declaration's assertion that "all men are created equal" was false, or at least that it did not apply to black people. During the debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Kansas-Nebraska Act
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands for settlement, and had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in those territories to determine through Popular Sovereignty if they would allow slavery within...

 in 1853, for example, Senator John Pettit
John Pettit
John Pettit was a United States Representative and Senator from Indiana.Born in Sackets Harbor, New York, he completed preparatory studies and admitted to the bar in 1831...

 of Indiana argued that "all men are created equal", rather than a "self-evident truth", was a "self-evident lie". Opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, including Salmon P. Chase
Salmon P. Chase
Salmon Portland Chase was an American politician and jurist who served as U.S. Senator from Ohio and the 23rd Governor of Ohio; as U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Abraham Lincoln; and as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.Chase was one of the most prominent members...

 and Benjamin Wade
Benjamin Wade
Benjamin Franklin "Bluff" Wade was a U.S. lawyer and United States Senator. In the Senate, he was associated with the Radical Republicans of that time.-Early life:...

, defended the Declaration and what they saw as its antislavery principles.

Lincoln and the Declaration



The Declaration's relationship to slavery was taken up in 1854 by Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, a little-known former Congressman who idolized the Founding Fathers. Lincoln thought that the Declaration of Independence expressed the highest principles of the American Revolution, and that the Founding Fathers had tolerated slavery with the expectation that it would ultimately wither away. For the United States to legitimize the expansion of slavery in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, thought Lincoln, was to repudiate the principles of the Revolution. In his October 1854 Peoria speech
Abraham Lincoln Peoria speech
Abraham Lincoln's Peoria speech was made in Peoria, Illinois on October 16, 1854. The speech, with its specific arguments against slavery, was an important step in Abraham Lincoln's political ascension....

, Lincoln said:
The meaning of the Declaration was a recurring topic in the famed debates
Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858
The Lincoln–Douglas Debates of 1858 were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois, and the incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. At the time, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures; thus Lincoln and...

 between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. Douglas argued that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration referred to white men only. The purpose of the Declaration, he said, had simply been to justify the independence of the United States, and not to proclaim the equality of any "inferior or degraded race". Lincoln, however, thought that the language of the Declaration was deliberately universal, setting a high moral standard for which the American republic should aspire. "I had thought the Declaration contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere", he said. According to Pauline Maier, Douglas's interpretation was more historically accurate, but Lincoln's view ultimately prevailed. "In Lincoln's hands", wrote Maier, "the Declaration of Independence became first and foremost a living document" with "a set of goals to be realized over time".
Like Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

, James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

, and Joseph Story
Joseph Story
Joseph Story was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered today for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee and The Amistad, along with his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, first...

 before him, Lincoln argued that the Declaration of Independence was a founding document of the United States, and that this had important implications for interpreting the Constitution, which had been ratified more than a decade after the Declaration. Although the Constitution did not use the word "equality", Lincoln believed that "all men are created equal" remained a part of the nation's founding principles. He famously expressed this belief in the opening sentence of his 1863 Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg Address
The Gettysburg Address is a speech by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and is one of the most well-known speeches in United States history. It was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery...

: "Four score and seven years ago [i.e. in 1776] our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Lincoln's view of the Declaration
Declarationism
Declarationism is a legal philosophy that incorporates the United States Declaration of Independence into the body of case law on level with the United States Constitution. It holds that the Declaration is a natural law document and so that natural law has a place within American jurisprudence. Its...

 as a moral guide to interpreting the Constitution became influential. "For most people now," wrote Garry Wills in 1992, "the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as a way of correcting the Constitution itself without overthrowing it." Admirers of Lincoln, such as Harry V. Jaffa
Harry V. Jaffa
Harry V. Jaffa is Professor Emeritus at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University and a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute. He has written on Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Leo Strauss, American constitutionalism...

, praised this development. Critics of Lincoln, notably Willmoore Kendall
Willmoore Kendall
Willmoore Kendall was an American conservative writer and Professor of political philosophy.-Biography:Kendall was born in 1909 to a blind minister in Oklahoma. He learned to read at age two, graduated from high school at 13, from the University of Oklahoma at 18, and published his first book at 20...

 and Mel Bradford
Mel Bradford
Melvin E. "Mel" Bradford was a conservative political commentator and professor of literature at the University of Dallas....

, argued that Lincoln dangerously expanded the scope of the national government, and violated states' rights
States' rights
States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. It is often considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation...

, by reading the Declaration into the Constitution.

Women's suffrage and the Declaration



In July 1848, the first Woman's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. The convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an American social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early woman's movement...

, Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Coffin Mott was an American Quaker, abolitionist, social reformer, and proponent of women's rights.- Early life and education:...

, Mary Ann McClintock, Martha White
Martha White
Martha White is a U.S. brand of flour, cornmeal, cornbread mixes, cake mixes, muffin mixes and similar products.The Martha White brand was established as the premium brand of Nashville, Tennessee-based Royal Flour Mills in 1899...

, and Jane Hunt. In their Declaration of Sentiments
Declaration of Sentiments
The Declaration of Sentiments, also known as the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, is a document signed in 1848 by 68 women and 32 men, 100 out of some 300 attendees at the first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, now known as the Seneca Falls Convention...

, patterned off of the Declaration of Independence, the convention members demanded social and political equality for women. Their motto was that "All men and women are created equal" and the convention demanded suffrage
Suffrage
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise, distinct from mere voting rights, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process...

 for women. The suffrage movement was supported by William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer. He is best known as the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and as one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he promoted "immediate emancipation" of slaves in the United...

 and Frederick Douglas.

In popular culture


The adoption of the Declaration of Independence was dramatized in the 1969 Tony Award
Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

-winning musical play 1776
1776 (musical)
1776 is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The story is based on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence...

, and the 1972 movie of the same name
1776 (film)
1776 is a 1972 American musical film directed by Peter H. Hunt. The screenplay by Peter Stone was based on the 1969 stage musical of the same name. Portions of the dialogue and some of the song lyrics were taken directly from the letters and memoirs of the actual participants of the Second...

, as well as in the 2008 television miniseries John Adams. The engrossed copy of the Declaration is central to the 2004 Hollywood film National Treasure
National Treasure (film)
National Treasure is a 2004 mystery adventure heist film from the Walt Disney Studios under Walt Disney Pictures. It was written by Jim Kouf, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Cormac Wibberley, and Marianne Wibberley, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and directed by Jon Turteltaub...

, in which the main character steals the document because he believes it has secret clues to a treasure hidden by some of the Founding Fathers of the United States
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

. The Declaration figures prominently in The Probability Broach
The Probability Broach
The Probability Broach is the first novel by science fiction writer L. Neil Smith. It is set in an alternate history, the so-called Gallatin Universe, where a libertarian society has formed on the North American continent, styled the North American Confederacy.-Plot summary:Edward William "Win"...

, wherein the point of divergence rests in the addition of a single word to the document, causing it to state that governments "derive their just power from the unanimous consent of the governed". The Declaration also plays a major part in Honour Among Thieves
Honour Among Thieves
Honour Among Thieves is a novel by English author Jeffrey Archer. The book takes place in 1993 with Saddam Hussein planning to retaliate at the United States after the events of the Gulf War....

, a novel by Jeffrey Archer where Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was the fifth President of Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003...

 tries to steal the Declaration and publicly burn it on July 4.

External links