What Is The Declaration Of Independence?

John Trumbull’s painting depicting The ‘Declaration of Independence’ drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress.
John Trumbull’s painting depicting The ‘Declaration of Independence’ drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress.

Overview Of The Declaration Of Independence

The US Declaration of Independence is the historical document that announced the separation of the US colonies and Great Britain. It marks the beginning of American political history and defines the founding ideas that have shaped this country. The first of these ideas is that all men are born equally with the same rights OF life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Additionally, the purpose of government is the ensure that these rights are available to its citizens. If the government does not uphold its responsibility, it is the right of the people to change or abolish that government.

The Declaration of Independence is divided into three parts: the Preamble, the list of accusations against then-King George III, and the conclusion. The Preamble sets forth the fundamental ideas of American independence and governance. The accusations against the King demonstrate how these fundamental ideas were being disregarded and the conclusion further reiterates the reasons for independence.

This article takes a look at the events leading up to the creation of the Declaration of Independence, its first draft, and the vote for independence.

Leading Up To The Declaration Of Independence

Around 1760, the colonists in North America grew dissatisfied with British policies, particularly those surrounding taxes. Protests were met with resistance from the British government, closed the Boston port and implemented martial law throughout Massachusetts. In response, the colonists organized a boycott of British goods, which was met with violent resistance. Throughout the 13 colonies, British authorities and local governments were at odds although the feeling of loyalty to the British monarch was still strong.

In April of 1775, the American Revolutionary War began. Contrary to popular belief, however, the colonists did not begin this war to fight for independence. Instead, it was a demand for rights as subjects of the British monarchy. In fact, only a few people wanted complete independence, and their opinion was seen as radical at the time.

Growing Popularity For Independence

As the fighting continued, more people began to support the idea of a complete separation from England. Toward the end of the year, King George III demanded increased military action and in December of 1775, the British Parliament prohibited trade with the American colonies. At this point in history, even the most committed loyalist began to doubt the possibility of reconciliation with the British crown. In addition, various people, like Thomas Paine, began to spread the idea of independence as a human right.

By March of 1776, North Carolina voted in favor of independence. In April, Congress reopened ports, thus taking some of the first steps toward separation. Seven other colonies followed North Carolina’s example in May, voting for independence as well. In June, a motion for independence was presented to Congress by Richard Lee of Virginia.

Lee’s Resolution For Independence

Not all of the representatives could agree on the resolution for independence. Some members of Congress believed that it was too early to declare independence, although they knew the relationship with Great Britain could not be reconciled. They believed the priority to be in finding foreign aid to finance the military. Proponents of the resolution claimed that foreign governments would not provide aid for a British war and that independence was the main priority.

Instead of voting, Congress was suspended for several weeks after creating a five-person committee to draft a document justifying separation from Great Britain. The committee was made up of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.

Drafting The Declaration Of Independence

Of the five-person committee, it was Thomas Jefferson who drafted the document that would become the Declaration of Independence. He was given this task because of his ability to present political ideas. He first demonstrated this ability in his publication “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.” Because Jefferson wanted the draft to be free of prejudice and bias, he gave it to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams for review.

Franklin and Adams edited the draft by removing any lines they believed to be controversial or that Congress would not agree with. This included removing a section of the document that blamed King George III for the slave trade. Other edits focused on removing any passages that placed blame on British citizens rather than the government.

Thomas Jefferson made the proposed edits and drafted a final copy, which was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776. It was titled, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.” The members of Congress further edited the document, shortening it by a quarter and changing some wording and structure. They also removed the accusation that Great Britain had forced slavery on the American colonies.

Voting For Independence

On July 1st, Congress once again began to debate Lee’s Resolution. Congress first voted as a committee of the whole, which is when all assembly members belong to a single committee. The delegates from each colony (between 2 and 7 people) first voted amongst themselves to determine their colony’s vote. Then, they voted on behalf of the colony. Nine delegates voted in favor of the resolution for independence and on July 2nd, 3 more colonies changed their vote in favor of independence. The resolution was passed by Congress on July 2nd.

Independence Day

Although July 2nd is actually the day that the US broke political relations with Great Britain, July 4th is the day that Americans celebrate. This is because it was on this day that the wording of the Declaration of Independence was finalized. The document was also printed and made public on July 4th. This declaration of independence allowed the US to form an alliance with France and obtain financial assistance for the war.

Significance Of The Declaration Of Independence

The Declaration of Independence continues to hold historical and political significance. Known as one of America’s Founding Documents, the original Declaration of Independence can be found in the National Archives Museum in Washington DC. It is located with the Constitution and Bill of Rights; these three documents are referred to as Charters of Freedom.

Today, the Declaration of Independence symbolizes an important marker in the history of democracy. It is the first formal document ever written by the people of a nation to claim their independence and form their own representative government. Its text has gone on to influence other governments around the world to draft their own documents of rights and independence.


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