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===Congress convenes===
===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]]. 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]]. In September 1774, the [[First Continental Congress]] convened in [[Philadelphia]] to coordinate a response. Congress organized a [[Continental Association|boycott of British goods]] and [[Petition to the King (1774)|petitioned the king]] for repeal of the acts. These measures were unsuccessful because [[George III of the United Kingdom|King George III]] and the [[North ministry]] were determined not to retreat on the question of parliamentary supremacy. As the king wrote to [[Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|Prime Minister]] [[Frederick North, Lord North|Lord North]] in November 1774, "blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent".<ref>Middlekauff, ''Glorious Cause'', 168; Ferling, ''Leap in the Dark'', 123–24.</ref>
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]]. 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]]. In September 1774, the [[First Continental Congress]] convened in [[Philadelphia]] to coordinate a response. Congress organized a [[Continental Association|boycott of British goods]] and [[Petition to the King (1774)|petitioned the king]] for repeal of the acts. These measures were unsuccessful because he is a fuckin fag ass dousche bag :) [[George III of the United Kingdom|King George III]] and the [[North ministry]] were determined not to retreat on the question of parliamentary supremacy. As the king wrote to [[Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|Prime Minister]] [[Frederick North, Lord North|Lord North]] in November 1774, "blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent".<ref>Middlekauff, ''Glorious Cause'', 168; Ferling, ''Leap in the Dark'', 123–24.</ref>
Even after fighting in the [[American Revolutionary War]] began at [[Battles of Lexington and Concord|Lexington and Concord]] in April 1775, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain.<ref>Hazelton, ''Declaration History'', 13; Middlekauff, ''Glorious Cause'', 318.</ref> When the [[Second Continental Congress]] convened at the [[Independence Hall (United States)|Pennsylvania State House]] in Philadelphia in May 1775, some delegates hoped for eventual independence, but no one yet advocated declaring it.<ref>Middlekauff, ''Glorious Cause'', 318.</ref> Although many colonists no longer believed that Parliament had any sovereignty over them, they still professed loyalty to King George, whom they hoped would intercede on their behalf. They were to be disappointed: in late 1775, the king rejected Congress's [[Olive Branch Petition|second petition]], issued a [[Proclamation of Rebellion]], and announced before Parliament on October 26 that he was even considering "friendly offers of foreign assistance" to suppress the rebellion.<ref>Maier, ''American Scripture'', 25. The text of the 1775 [[Speech from the Throne|king's speech]] is [ online], published by the [[American Memory]] project.</ref> A pro-American minority in Parliament warned that the government was driving the colonists towards independence.<ref>Maier, ''American Scripture'', 25.</ref>
Even after fighting in the [[American Revolutionary War]] began at [[Battles of Lexington and Concord|Lexington and Concord]] in April 1775, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain.<ref>Hazelton, ''Declaration History'', 13; Middlekauff, ''Glorious Cause'', 318.</ref> When the [[Second Continental Congress]] convened at the [[Independence Hall (United States)|Pennsylvania State House]] in Philadelphia in May 1775, some delegates hoped for eventual independence, but no one yet advocated declaring it.<ref>Middlekauff, ''Glorious Cause'', 318.</ref> Although many colonists no longer believed that Parliament had any sovereignty over them, they still professed loyalty to King George, whom they hoped would intercede on their behalf. They were to be disappointed: in late 1775, the king rejected Congress's [[Olive Branch Petition|second petition]], issued a [[Proclamation of Rebellion]], and announced before Parliament on October 26 that he was even considering "friendly offers of foreign assistance" to suppress the rebellion.<ref>Maier, ''American Scripture'', 25. The text of the 1775 [[Speech from the Throne|king's speech]] is [ online], published by the [[American Memory]] project.</ref> A pro-American minority in Parliament warned that the government was driving the colonists towards independence.<ref>Maier, ''American Scripture'', 25.</ref>

Revision as of 17:48, 9 January 2009

United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence.jpg
1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy
Created June–July 1776
Ratified July 4, 1776
Location Engrossed copy: National Archives
Original: lost
Rough draft: Library of Congress
Author(s) Thomas Jefferson et al.
Signatories 56 delegates to the Continental Congress
Purpose To announce and explain separation from Britain[1]

The United States Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain were now independent states, and thus no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The birthday of the United States of AmericaIndependence Day—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 in Washington, D.C. Contrary to popular mythology, Congress did not sign this document on July 4, 1776; it was created after July 19 and was signed by most Congressional delegates on August 2.

Having served its original purpose in announcing the independence of the United States, the text of the Declaration initially attracted little attention after the American Revolution. Its stature grew over the years, particularly the second sentence, a sweeping statement of human rights:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These words—called by historian Joseph Ellis "the most potent and consequential words in American history"[2]—came to represent an ideal for which the nation should strive, notably through the influence of Abraham Lincoln, who popularized the now-standard view that the Declaration's preamble is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.


Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, argued that Parliament was a foreign legislature that was unconstitutionally trying to extend its sovereignty into the colonies.

Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.

— Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1775[3]

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 in 1763. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and so Parliament enacted a series of measures to increase tax revenue from the colonies. Parliament believed that these acts, such as the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts 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.[4]

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 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 in the colonies.[5] The orthodox British view, dating from the Glorious Revolution of 1688, was that Parliament was the supreme authority throughout the empire, and so by definition anything Parliament did was constitutional.[6] In the colonies, however, the idea had developed that the British Constitution recognized certain fundamental rights that no government—not even Parliament—could violate.[7] After the Townshend Acts, some essayists even began to question whether Parliament had any legitimate jurisdiction in the colonies at all.[8] Anticipating the arrangement of the British Commonwealth,[9] by 1774 American writers such as Samuel Adams, James Wilson, 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 to the Crown.[10]

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. 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. In September 1774, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia to coordinate a response. Congress organized a boycott of British goods and petitioned the king for repeal of the acts. These measures were unsuccessful because he is a fuckin fag ass dousche bag :) King George III and the North ministry were determined not to retreat on the question of parliamentary supremacy. As the king wrote to Prime Minister Lord North in November 1774, "blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent".[11]

Even after fighting in the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain.[12] When the Second Continental Congress convened at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in May 1775, some delegates hoped for eventual independence, but no one yet advocated declaring it.[13] Although many colonists no longer believed that Parliament had any sovereignty over them, they still professed loyalty to King George, whom they hoped would intercede on their behalf. They were to be disappointed: in late 1775, the king rejected Congress's second petition, issued a Proclamation of Rebellion, and announced before Parliament on October 26 that he was even considering "friendly offers of foreign assistance" to suppress the rebellion.[14] A pro-American minority in Parliament warned that the government was driving the colonists towards independence.[15]

Towards 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's pamphlet Common Sense was published.[16] Paine, who had only recently arrived in the colonies from England, argued in favor of colonial independence, advocating republicanism as an alternative to monarchy and hereditary rule.[17] Common Sense introduced no new ideas,[18] and probably had little direct effect on Congress's thinking about independence; its importance was in stimulating public debate on a topic that few had previously dared to openly discuss.[19] Public support for separation from Great Britain steadily increased after the publication of Paine's enormously popular pamphlet.[20]

The Assembly Room in Philadelphia's Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

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, which established a blockade of American ports and declared American ships to be enemy vessels. John Adams, 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".[21] Support for declaring independence grew even more when it was confirmed that King George had hired German mercenaries to use against his American subjects.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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 its delegation to propose a declaration of independence in Congress. Between April and July 1776, a "complex political war"[25] was waged in order to bring this about.[26]

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 identified more than ninety such declarations that were issued throughout the Thirteen Colonies from April to July 1776.[27] These "declarations" took a variety of forms. Some were formal, written instructions for Congressional delegations, such as the Halifax Resolves of April 12, with which North Carolina became the first colony to explicitly authorize its delegates to vote for independence.[28] Others were legislative acts that officially ended British rule in individual colonies, such as on May 4, when the Rhode Island legislature became to the first to declare its independence from Great Britain.[29] 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 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."[30] Most of these declarations are now obscure, having been overshadowed by the declaration approved by Congress on July 4.[31]

Some colonies held back from endorsing independence. Resistance was centered in the middle colonies of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] In response, on May 10 Congress passed a resolution, which had been introduced by John Adams, calling on colonies without a "government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs" to adopt new governments.[35] The resolution passed unanimously, and was even supported by Pennsylvania's John Dickinson, the leader of the anti-independence faction in Congress, who believed that it did not apply to his colony.[36]

This Day the Congress has passed the most important Resolution, that ever was taken in America.
John Adams, May 15, 1776[37]

As was the custom, Congress appointed a committee to draft a preamble 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".[38] Everyone understood that Adams's preamble was meant to encourage the overthrow of the governments of Pennsylvania and Maryland, which were still under proprietary governance.[39] 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.[40] 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.[41]

Lee's resolution and the final push

On the same day that Congress passed Adams's radical preamble, the Virginia Convention 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".[42] In accordance with those instructions, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a three-part resolution 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.[43]

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.[44] 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".[45] 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.[46] 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.[47] In Pennsylvania, political struggles ended with the dissolution of the colonial assembly, and on June 18 a new Conference of Committees under Thomas McKean authorized Pennsylvania's delegates to declare independence.[48] On June 15, the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, which had been governing the province since January 1776, resolved that Royal Governor William Franklin was "an enemy to the liberties of this county" and had him arrested.[49] On June 21, they chose new delegates to Congress and empowered them to join in a declaration of independence.[50]

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.[51] On May 20, the Maryland Convention rejected Adams's preamble, instructing its delegates to remain against independence, but Samuel Chase 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.[52] 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 told the delegates to wait.[53] 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.[54]

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", consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman 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.[55] 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.[56] Considering Congress's busy schedule, Jefferson probably had limited time for writing over the next seventeen days, and likely wrote the draft quickly.[57] 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."[58] Congress ordered that the draft "lie on the table".[59]

John Trumbull's famous painting is often identified as a depiction of the signing of the Declaration, but it actually shows the drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress.[60]

On Monday, July 1, having tabled the draft of the declaration, Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole and resumed debate on Lee's resolution of independence.[61] John Dickinson 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.[62] 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 and 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 (who voted yes) and George Read (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 of South Carolina, who was opposed to Lee's resolution but desirous of unanimity, moved that the vote be postponed until the following day.[63]

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, 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 a week later.[64] 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.[65] 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.[66] Adams thought that the vote for independence would be commemorated; he did not foresee that Americans—including himself—would instead celebrate Independence Day on the date that the announcement of that act was finalized.[67]

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, changes that Jefferson resented.[68] On July 4, 1776, the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved and sent to the printer for publication.


The Dunlap broadside was the first published version of the Declaration.

The first sentence of the Declaration asserts as a matter of Natural Law the ability of a people to assume political independence, and acknowledges that the grounds for such independence must be reasonable, and therefore explicable, and ought to be explained.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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": that is, people have certain rights, and when a government violates these rights, the people have the right to "alter or abolish" that government.[69]

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The next section is a list of charges against King George 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, 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:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has 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, to convince the King to relax his more objectionable policies toward the colonies.[70] 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, 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.


Thomas Jefferson considered English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) to be one of "the three greatest men that have ever lived".[71]

Historians have often sought to identify the sources that most influenced the words 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.[72]

Jefferson's most immediate sources were two documents written in June 1776: his own draft of the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia, and George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Ideas and phrases from both of these documents appear in the Declaration of Independence.[73] They were in turn directly influenced by the 1689 English Declaration of Rights, which formally ended the reign of King James II.[74] 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.[75]

English political theorist John Locke is usually cited as a primary influence on the Declaration. As historian Carl L. Becker wrote in 1922, "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."[76] The extent of Locke's influence on the American Revolution was questioned by some subsequent scholars, however, who emphasized the influence of republicanism rather than Locke's classical liberalism.[77] Historian Garry Wills argued that Jefferson was influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly Francis Hutcheson, rather than Locke,[78] an interpretation that has been strongly criticized.[79] The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath (1320) and the Dutch Act of Abjuration (1581) have also been offered as models for Jefferson's Declaration, but these arguments have been disputed.[80]


The signed, engrossed copy of the Declaration, now badly faded, is on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Date of signing

One of the most enduring myths about the Declaration of Independence is that it was signed by Congress on July 4, 1776.[81] The misconception became established so quickly that, before a decade had passed, even Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams believed it.[82] While it is possible that Congress signed a document on July 4 that has since been lost, most historians do not think that this is likely.[83]

The myth may have originated with the Journals of Congress, the official public record of the Continental Congress. When the proceedings for 1776 were first published in 1777, the entry for July 4, 1776, stated that the Declaration was "engrossed and signed" on that date, after which followed a list of signers.[84] In 1796, signer Thomas McKean disputed the claim that the Declaration had been signed on July 4, pointing out that some signers were not present that day, including several who were not even elected to Congress until after July 4.[85] "[N]o person signed it on that day nor for many days after", he later wrote.[86] Many years after the signing, however, Jefferson and Adams cited the published Journal as evidence that they had signed on July 4 and that McKean was in error. McKean's version of the story gained support when the Secret Journals of Congress were published in 1821, but uncertainty remained.[87] In 1884, historian Mellen Chamberlain demonstrated that the entry in the published Journal was erroneous, and that the famous signed version of the Declaration had been created after July 4.[88] Historian John Hazelton confirmed in 1906 that many of the signers had not been present in Congress on July 4, and that the signers had never actually been together as a group.[89]

The actual signing of the Declaration took place after the New York delegation had been given permission to support independence, which allowed the Declaration to be proclaimed as the unanimous decision of the thirteen states. On July 19, 1776, Congress ordered a copy of the Declaration to be engrossed (carefully handwritten) on parchment for the delegates to sign. The engrossed copy, which was probably produced by clerk Timothy Matlack, was given the new title of "The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America".[90] Most of the delegates who signed did so on August 2, 1776, although some eventual signers were not present and added their names later.[91]

List of signers

Fifty-six delegates eventually signed the Declaration:

Signer details

Of the approximately fifty delegates who are thought to have been present in Congress during the voting on independence in early July 1776,[92] eight never signed the Declaration: John Alsop, George Clinton, John Dickinson, Charles Humphreys, Robert R. Livingston, John Rogers, Thomas Willing, and Henry Wisner.[93] Clinton, Livingston, and Wisner were attending to duties away from Congress when the signing took place. Willing and Humphreys, who voted against the resolution of independence, were replaced in the Pennsylvania delegation before the August 2 signing. Rogers had voted for the resolution of independence but was no longer a delegate on August 2. Alsop, who favored reconciliation with Great Britain, resigned rather than add his name to the document.[94] Dickinson refused to sign, believing the Declaration premature, but remained in Congress. Although George Read had voted against the resolution of independence, he signed the Declaration.

The most famous signature on the engrossed copy is that of John Hancock, who, as President of Congress, presumably signed first.[95] Hancock's large, flamboyant signature became iconic, and "John Hancock" emerged in the United States an informal synonym for "signature".[96] Two future presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were among the signatories. Edward Rutledge (age 26) was the youngest signer, and Benjamin Franklin (age 70) was the oldest signer.

John Hancock's now-iconic signature on the Declaration is nearly 5 inches (13 cm) long.[97]

Some delegates, including Samuel Chase, were away on business when the Declaration was debated, but were back in Congress for the signing on August 2. Other delegates were present when the Declaration was adopted, but were away on August 2 and added their names later, including Elbridge Gerry, Lewis Morris, Oliver Wolcott, and Thomas McKean. Richard Henry Lee and George Wythe were in Virginia during July and August, but returned to Congress and signed the Declaration probably in September and October, respectively.[98]

As new delegates joined the Congress, they were also allowed to sign. Eight men signed the Declaration who did not takes seats in Congress until after July 4: Matthew Thornton, William Williams, Benjamin Rush, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, George Ross, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton.[99] Because of a lack of space, Thornton was unable to place his signature on the top right of the signing area with the other New Hampshire delegates, and had to place his signature at the end of the document, on the lower right.[100]

The first published version of the Declaration, the Dunlap broadside, was printed before Congress had signed the Declaration. The public did not learn who had signed the engrossed copy until January 18, 1777, when the Congress ordered that an "authenticated copy", including the names of the signers, be sent to each of the thirteen states.[101] This copy, the Goddard Broadside, was the first to list the signers.[102]

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.[103]

Publication and reaction

Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C., ca. 1859

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. Through the night between 150 and 200 copies were made, now known as "Dunlap broadsides". 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 in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8; public readings also took place on that day in Trenton, New Jersey, and Easton, Pennsylvania.[104] A German translation of the Declaration was published in Philadelphia by July 9.[105]

President of Congress John Hancock sent a Dunlap broadside to General George Washington, instructing him to have it proclaimed "at the Head of the Army in the way you shall think it most proper".[106] Washington had the Declaration read to his troops in New York City 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.[107] 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.[108]

British officials in North America sent copies of the Declaration to Great Britain.[109] It was published in British newspapers beginning in mid-August; translations appeared in European newspapers soon after.[110] The North ministry did not give an official answer to the Declaration, but instead secretly commissioned pamphleteer John Lind to publish a response, which was entitled Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress. [111] Thomas Hutchinson, the former royal governor of Massachusetts, also published a rebuttal.[112] 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.[113] Lind's pamphlet included an anonymous attack on the concept of natural rights written by Jeremy Bentham, an argument he would repeat during the French Revolution.[114] Both pamphlets asked how slave owners in Congress could proclaim that "all men are created equal" without then freeing their own slaves.[115]

History of the documents

Although the document signed by Congress and enshrined in the National Archives is usually regarded as the Declaration of Independence, historian Julian P. Boyd, editor of Jefferson's papers, argued that the Declaration of Independence, like Magna Carta, is not a single document. The version signed by Congress is, according to Boyd, "only the most notable of several copies legitimately entitled to be designated as official texts".[116] By Boyd's count there were five "official" versions of the Declaration, in addition to unofficial drafts and copies.

Drafts and Fair Copy

Jefferson preserved a four-page draft that late in life he called the "original Rough draught".[117] Known to historians as the Rough Draft, early students of the Declaration believed that this was a draft written alone by Jefferson and then presented to the Committee of Five. Scholars now believe that the Rough Draft was not actually an "original Rough draught", but was instead a revised version completed by Jefferson after consultation with the Committee.[117] 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 in Jefferson's handwriting that predates the Rough Draft. Known as the Composition Draft, this fragment is the earliest known version of the Declaration.[118]

The earliest known draft of the Declaration is the Composition Draft, a fragment in Jefferson's handwriting.

Jefferson showed the Rough Draft to Adams and Franklin, and perhaps other committee members,[117] 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".[119] Jefferson incorporated these changes into a copy that was submitted to Congress in the name of the Committee. Jefferson kept the Rough Draft and made additional notes on it as Congress revised the text. He also made several copies of the Rough Draft without the changes made by Congress, which he sent to friends, including Richard Henry Lee and George Wythe, after July 4. At some point in the process, Adams also wrote out a copy.[117]

The copy that was submitted to Congress by the Committee on June 28 is known as the Fair Copy. Presumably, the Fair Copy was marked up by secretary Charles Thomson while Congress debated and revised the text.[120] This document was the one that Congress approved on July 4, making it the first "official" copy of the Declaration. The Fair Copy was sent to be printed under the title "A Declaration by the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress assembled". The Fair Copy has been lost, and was perhaps destroyed in the printing process.[121] If a document was signed on July 4, it would have been the Fair Copy, and would likely have been signed only by John Hancock, president of Congress, and secretary Charles Thomson.[122]


The Goddard Broadside, the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the signatories.

The Declaration was first published as a broadside printed the night of July 4 by John Dunlap of Philadelphia. John Hancock's eventually famous signature was not on this document; his name appeared in type under "Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress", with Thomson listed as a witness. It is unknown exactly how many Dunlap broadsides were originally printed, but the number is estimated at about 200, of which 25 are known to survive. One broadside was pasted into Congress's journal, making it what Boyd called the "second official version" of the Declaration.[123] Boyd considered the engrossed copy to be the third official version, and the Goddard Broadside to be the fourth.

Engrossed copy

The copy of the Declaration that was signed by Congress is known as the engrossed or parchment copy. Throughout the Revolutionary War, the engrossed copy was moved with the Continental Congress,[124] which relocated several times to avoid the British army. In 1789, after creation of a new government under the United States Constitution, the engrossed Declaration was transferred to the custody of the secretary of state.[124] The document was evacuated to Virginia when the British attacked Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812.[124]

National Bureau of Standards preserving the engrossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1951.

After the War of 1812, the symbolic stature of the Declaration steadily increased even as the engrossed copy was noticeably fading. In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned printer William J. Stone to create an engraving essentially identical to the engrossed copy.[124] Boyd called this copy the "fifth official version" of the Declaration. Stone's engraving was made using a wet-ink transfer process, where the surface of the document was moistened, and some of the original ink transferred to the surface of a copper plate, which was then etched so that copies could be run off the plate on a press. When Stone finished his engraving in 1823, Congress ordered 200 copies to be printed on parchment.[124] Because of poor conservation of the engrossed copy through the 19th century, Stone's engraving, rather than the original, has become the basis of most modern reproductions.[125]

From 1841 to 1876, the engrossed copy was publicly exhibited at the Patent Office building in Washington, D.C. Exposed to sunlight and variable temperature and humidity, the document faded badly. In 1876, it was sent to Independence Hall in Philadelphia for exhibit during the Centennial Exposition, which was held in honor of the Declaration's 100th anniversary, and then returned to Washington the next year.[124] In 1892, preparations were made for the engrossed copy to be exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but the poor condition of the document led to the cancellation of those plans and the removal of the document from public exhibition.[124] The document was sealed between two plates of glass and placed in storage. For nearly thirty years, it was exhibited only on rare occasions at the discretion of the secretary of state.[126]

The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives building.

In 1921, custody of the Declaration, along with the United States Constitution, was transferred from the State Department to the Library of Congress. Funds were appropriated to preserve the documents in a public exhibit that opened in 1924. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the documents were moved for safekeeping to the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox in Kentucky, where they were kept until 1944.[127]

For many years, officials at the National Archives believed that they, rather than the Library of Congress, should have custody of the Declaration and the Constitution. The transfer finally took place in 1952, and the documents, along with the Bill of Rights, are now on permanent display at the National Archives in the "Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom". Although encased in helium, by the early 1980s the documents were threatened by further deterioration. In 2001, using the latest in preservation technology, conservators treated the documents and re-encased them in encasements made of titanium and aluminum, filled with inert argon gas.[128] They were put on display again with the opening of the remodeled National Archives Rotunda in 2003.


Historian Pauline Maier wrote of the legacy of the Declaration of Independence from 1800 on, “The Declaration was at first forgotten almost entirely, then recalled and celebrated by Jeffersonian Republicans, and later elevated into something akin to holy writ, which made it a prize worth capturing on behalf of one cause after another.” Its meaning changed from a justification for revolution in 1776 to a “moral standard by which day-to-day policies and practices of the nation could be judged.”[129]

In the first fifteen years after its adoption, including the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, the Declaration was rarely mentioned in the period’s political writings. It was not until the 1790s, as the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republics began the bitter debates of the First Party System, that Republicans praised a Declaration created by Jefferson alone while Federalists argued that it was a collective creation based on the instructions from the Continental Congress.[130]

The abolitionist movement combined their own interpretation of the Declaration of Independence with their religious views. Historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown wrote:

The abolitionist movement was primarily religious in its origins, its leadership, its language, and its methods of reaching the people. While the ideas of a secular Enlightenment played a major role, too, abolitionists tended to interpret the Declaration of Independence as a theological as well as a political document. They stressed the spiritual as much as the civil damage done to the slave and the nation. Antislavery sentiment, of course, found its political expression in the Free Soil, and later the Republican, parties.[131]

Abolitionist leaders Benjamin Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison both adopted the “twin rocks” of “the Bible and the Declaration of Independence” as the basis for their philosophies. Garrison wrote, “as long as there remains a single copy of the Declaration of Independence, or of the Bible, in our land, we will not despair.”[132] Garrison and most other abolitionists like Lewis Tappan saw their role outside the electoral process with “the broader moral education of the citizenry to be the movement’s most urgent political task.”[133]

Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era

In the political arena, Abraham Lincoln, beginning in 1854 as he spoke out against slavery and the Kansas-Nebraska Act,[134] provided a reinterpretation of the Declaration that stressed that the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were not limited to the white race.[135] In his October 1854 Peoria speech, Lincoln said:

Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a 'sacred right of self-government. ... Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. ...Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. ... If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving.[136]

Lincoln accused southerners and Democrats of showing a willingness to "reject, and scout, and spit upon" the Founders and creating their own reinterpretation of the Declaration in order to exclude blacks.[137]

As the Civil War approached, some Southerners did frequently invoke the right of revolution to justify secession, comparing their grievances to those suffered by the colonists under British rule. Northerners rejected this line of thought. The New York Times wrote that while the Declaration of Independence was based on “Natural Rights against Established Institutions”, the Confederate cause was a counterrevolution “reversing the wheels of progress ... to hurl everything backward into deepest darkness ... despotism and oppression.”[138]

Southern leaders such as Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the leading publisher James B. D. DeBow likewise denied that they were revolutionaries. Davis called it “an abuse of language” to equate secession and revolution; the South had left the Union in order “to save ourselves from a revolution. The Republicans and abolitionists were seen as the real revolutionaries because of their intent to attack the institution of slavery.[139]

In his 1863 Gettysburg Address, Lincoln, referring to the Declaration of Independence, noted: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Historian Douglas L. Wilson wrote:

But with the victory at Gettysburg, coming almost exactly on the Fourth of July, Lincoln saw something like the blind hand of fate and determined to look for an opportunity to reinvoke the spirit and emotional response of Jefferson’s own inspiring words.

Having crafted and condensed his message and adapted it to an occasion ideally suited to a receptive hearing, Lincoln had maximized his chances for success. Once it gained wide readership, the Gettysburg Address would gradually become ingrained in the national consciousness. Nether an argument nor an analysis nor a new credo, it was instead a moving tribute incorporated into an alluring affirmation of the nation’s ideals. “This was the perfect medium for changing the way most Americans thought about the nation’s founding act,” Garry Wills has written. “Lincoln does not argue law or history, as Daniel Webster did. He makes history.”[140]

In popular culture

The adoption of the Declaration of Independence was dramatized in the 1969 Tony Award-winning musical play 1776, and the 1972 movie of the same name, 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, 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. The Declaration figures prominently in The Probability Broach, 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."


  1. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 5.
  2. ^ Ellis, American Creation, 55–56.
  3. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 19.
  4. ^ Christie and Labaree, Empire or Independence, 31.
  5. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 162.
  6. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 200–02.
  7. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 180–82.
  8. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 241.
  9. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 224–25.
  10. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 241–42. The writings in question include Wilson's Considerations on the Authority of Parliament and Jefferson's A Summary View of the Rights of British America (both 1774), as well as Samuel Adams's 1768 Circular Letter.
  11. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 168; Ferling, Leap in the Dark, 123–24.
  12. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 13; Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 318.
  13. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 318.
  14. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 25. The text of the 1775 king's speech is online, published by the American Memory project.
  15. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 25.
  16. ^ Rakove, Beginnings of National Politics, 88–90.
  17. ^ Christie and Labaree, Empire or Independence, 270; Maier, American Scripture, 31–32.
  18. ^ Jensen, Founding, 667.
  19. ^ Rakove, Beginnings of National Politics, 89; Maier, American Scripture, 33.
  20. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 33–34.
  21. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 209; Maier, American Scripture, 25–27.
  22. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 67.
  23. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 77.
  24. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 30.
  25. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 59.
  26. ^ Jensen, Founding, 671; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 78.
  27. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 48, and Appendix A, which lists the state and local declarations.
  28. ^ Jensen, Founding, 678–79.
  29. ^ Jensen, Founding, 679; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 92–93.
  30. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 69–72, quote on 72.
  31. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 48. The modern scholarly consensus is that the best-known and earliest of the local declarations, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, allegedly adopted in May 1775 (a full year before other local declarations), is most likely inauthentic; Maier, American Scripture, 174.
  32. ^ Jensen, Founding, 682.
  33. ^ Jensen, Founding, 682.
  34. ^ Jensen, Founding, 683.
  35. ^ Jensen, Founding, 684; Maier, American Scripture, 37. For the full text of the May 10 resolve see the Journals of the Continental Congress.
  36. ^ Jensen, Founding, 684.
  37. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 159. The text of Adams's letter is online.
  38. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 37; Jensen, Founding, 684. For the full text of the May 15 preamble see the Journals of the Continental Congress.
  39. ^ Rakove, National Politics, 96; Jensen, Founding, 684; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 94.
  40. ^ Rakove, National Politics, 97; Jensen, Founding, 685.
  41. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 38.
  42. ^ Boyd, Evolution, 18; Maier, American Scripture, 63. The text of the May 15 Virginia resolution is online at Yale Law School's Avalon Project.
  43. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 41; Boyd, Evolution, 19.
  44. ^ Jensen, Founding, 689–90; Maier, American Scripture, 42.
  45. ^ Jensen, Founding, 689; Armitage, Global History, 33–34. The quote is from Jefferson's notes; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson, 1:311.
  46. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 42–43; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 106.
  47. ^ Jensen, Founding, 691–92.
  48. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 106–07; Jensen, Founding, 691.
  49. ^ Jensen, Founding, 692.
  50. ^ Jensen, Founding, 693.
  51. ^ Jensen, Founding, 694.
  52. ^ Jensen, Founding, 694–96; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 96; Maier, American Scripture, 68.
  53. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 118; Jensen, Founding, 698.
  54. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 119–20.
  55. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 97–105; Boyd, Evolution, 21.
  56. ^ Boyd, Evolution, 22.
  57. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 104.
  58. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 4.
  59. ^ Jensen, Founding, 701.
  60. ^ Wills, Inventing America, 348.
  61. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 181.
  62. ^ Jensen, Founding, 699.
  63. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 182; Jensen, Founding, 700.
  64. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 45.
  65. ^ Boyd, Evolution, 19.
  66. ^ Jensen, Founding, 703–04.
  67. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 160–61.
  68. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 146–50.
  69. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 9.
  70. ^ See generally Morgan (2003).
  71. ^
  72. ^ "TO HENRY LEE - Thomas Jefferson The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826; 1905)". The Online Library of Liberty. May 8, 1825. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  73. ^ Malone, Jefferson the Virginian, 221; Maier, American Scripture, 125–26.
  74. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 126–28.
  75. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 53–57.
  76. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 27.
  77. ^ A brief, online overview of the classical liberalism vs. republicanism debate is Alec Ewald, "The American Republic: 1760-1870" (2004).
  78. ^ Wills, Inventing America, especially chs. 11–13. Wills concludes (p. 315) that "the air of enlightened America was full of Hutcheson's politics, not Locke's."
  79. ^ Hamowy, "Jefferson and the Scottish Enlightenment", argues that Wills gets much wrong (p. 523), that the Declaration seems to be influenced by Hutcheson because Hutcheson was, like Jefferson, influenced by Locke (pp. 508–09), and that Jefferson often wrote of Locke's influence, but never mentioned Hutcheson in any of his writings (p. 514). See also Kenneth S. Lynn, "Falsifying Jefferson," Commentary 66 (Oct. 1978), 66–71.
  80. ^ Maier found no evidence that the Dutch Act of Abjuration served as a model for the Declaration and considers the argument "unpersuasive" (American Scripture, 264). Armitage discounts the influence of the Scottish and Dutch acts, and writes that neither were called "declarations of independence" until fairly recently (Global History, 42–44). For the argument in favor of the influence of the Dutch act, see Stephen E. Lucas, "The 'Plakkaat van Verlatinge': A Neglected Model for the American Declaration of Independence", in Rosemarijn Hofte and Johanna C. Kardux, eds., Connecting Cultures: The Netherlands in Five Centuries of Transatlantic Exchange (Amsterdam, 1994), 189–207.
  81. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 242.
  82. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 242–43.
  83. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 150; Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 242. Boyd (Papers of Jefferson, 1:306–08) believed that, despite historical consensus to the contrary, an informal signing on July 4, followed by a formal signing on August 2, was at least "plausible". Wills (Inventing America, 342–43) called Boyd's reasoning "farfetched", arguing that a July 4 signing "makes no sense".
  84. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 246; Burnett, Continental Congress, 192.
  85. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 299–302; Burnett, Continental Congress, 192.
  86. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 302.
  87. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 194; Wills, Inventing America, 341.
  88. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 245–46.
  89. ^ Wills, Inventing America, 341.
  90. ^ The engrossed copy of the Declaration renders the "u" in United States in small case, i.e. "united States", one of several variations in capitalization and punctuation that historians Boyd and Becker believed to be of no significance; Boyd, Evolution, 25–26. In his notes and Rough Draft, Jefferson capitalized variously as "United states" (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson, 1:315) and "United States" (ibid., 1:427).
  91. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 208–19.
  92. ^ Friedenwald (Interpretation and Analysis, 143) says that 45 delegates can be confirmed present on July 4, and that another four might have been.
  93. ^ Friedenwald (Interpretation, 149) gives the number of non-signers as seven, not counting Dickinson, who absented himself for the final votes.
  94. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 525–26.
  95. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 209.
  96. ^ Merriam-Webster online;
  97. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 90.
  98. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 148.
  99. ^ Friedenwald (Interpretation, 149) lists seven men; he does not include Charles Carroll of Carrollton, but although Carroll had been working as an emissary for Congress, he did not become an official member of the Maryland delegation until July 4, and did not take his seat as a delegate until July 18; Hazelton, Declaration History, 529, 587.
  100. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 150.
  101. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 247; Hazelton, Declaration History, 284; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 137, where the date is misprinted as January 8, but correct on page 150.
  102. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 137.
  103. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 91.
  104. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 156.
  105. ^ Armitage, Global History, 72.
  106. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 155.
  107. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 156.
  108. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 156–57.
  109. ^ Armitage, Global History, 73.
  110. ^ Armitage, Global History, 70.
  111. ^ Armitage, Global History, 75.
  112. ^ Armitage, Global History, 74.
  113. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 155–56.
  114. ^ Armitage, Global History, 79–80.
  115. ^ Armitage, Global History, 76–77.
  116. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 439.
  117. ^ a b c d Boyd, "Lost Original", 446.
  118. ^ Boyd, Papers of Jefferson, 1:421. For more on the Composition Draft, see "Drafting the Documents" from the Library of Congress.
  119. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 142 note 1. Boyd (Papers of Jefferson, 1:427–28) casts doubt on Becker's belief that the change was made by Franklin.
  120. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 449.
  121. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 448–50. Ritz, "From the Here", disagrees with this standard theory, and instead speculates that the Fair Copy was immediately sent to the printer so that copies could be made for each member of Congress to consult during the debate. All of these copies were then destroyed, argues Ritz, in accordance with Congress's secrecy rule then in effect.
  122. ^ Boyd thought it unlikely that Hancock and Thomson signed the Fair Copy; Boyd, "Lost Original", 450.
  123. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 452.
  124. ^ a b c d e f g Gustafson, "Travels of the Charters of Freedom".
  125. ^ National Archives.
  126. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 257.
  127. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 263.
  128. ^ National Archives Press Release
  129. ^ Maier p. 154
  130. ^ Maier p. 168-171
  131. ^ Wyatt-Brown p. 287
  132. ^ Mayer pp. 53, 115
  133. ^ Mayer p. 240
  134. ^ McPherson p. 126
  135. ^ McPherson p. 51
  136. ^ McPherson p.126-127
  137. ^ Carwadine p. 119
  138. ^ McPherson p. 25-27
  139. ^ McPherson p. 27
  140. ^ Wilson p. 235


  • Armitage, David. The Declaration Of Independence: A Global History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-674-02282-9.
  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Enlarged edition. Originally published 1967. Harvard University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-674-44302-0.
  • Becker, Carl. The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas. 1922. Available online from The Online Library of Liberty and Google Book Search. Revised edition New York: Vintage Books, 1970. ISBN 0394700600.
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