DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
On June 7, 1776 Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress, presented a formal resolution for American independence from Britain. It states:
``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.''
To provide time for debate and for delegates to consult with their constituents, Congress postponed its decision until July. In the meantime, on June 11, Congress appointed a committee to write a formal declaration of independence. The members are Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Roger Livingston.. This committee in turn convinced Jefferson to write the first draft. In only 17 days, after changes made by Adams and Franklin, the committee as a whole reviewed the document and made additional changes. All together 26 changes were made from Jefferson’s original draft.
The committee presented the finished document to Congress on June 28. The document drew heavily from George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, Thomas Jefferson’s Preamble to the Virginia Constitution, and Richard Henry Lee’s resolution. The declaration contains the bold announcement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
In essence, the Declaration of Independence contains a laundry list of grievances the American colonists have against Great Britain. (Read the full text of the Declaration here or go to Table of Contents.)
The Second Continental Congress began debate on Monday, July 1, 1776 at 9:00 that morning. On July 2, with New York abstaining, the remaining 12 colonies voted in support of Lee’s resolution for independence. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress formally endorsed the Declaration of Independence. Although the signing of the document by 56 delegates was not completed until August 2, and Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence passed on July 2, it is July 4 that has come to be celebrated as Independence Day.
Congress didn’t wait for the official signing by all the delegates to be completed to distribute copies. After the vote took place on July 4, John Hancock as President of the Congress, and Charles Thomson as Secretary of the Congress signed the document and hundreds of copies were made that night. By order of Congress, the declaration was sent to all state assemblies, newspapers, the army, and town officers. A copy signed by only the two congressional officers was sent to King George III.
Wanting unanimous consent, John Hancock sent a large copy of the declaration to the New York Provincial Congress on July 6. The New York delegates were required to abstain from voting on the declaration since they abstained on Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence. On July 9, New York passes a resolution supporting the declaration. The resolution came before the Second Continental Congress on July 15. It was on this date that the document was titled “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen States of America.”NEXT PAGE - Washington Crosses the Delaware River
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