The United States Declaration of Independence was a statement that the Continental Congress adopted on July 4, 1776. The statement announced that the 13 American colonies that were at war with Great Britain till then, would no longer be a part of the British Empire. The Declaration of Independence is indeed the nation's most celebrated symbol of liberty.
- In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence was intended to place before mankind the common sense of the matter in terms so plain and simple as to command their agreement.
- The sole purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to announce and explain the freedom of the United States from Britain.
- The Declaration of Independence aimed at expressing the ideals of individual liberty and the philosophy of the need of freedom.
- It put forth the grievances people had against the King for the world to know the reason behind the breaking of bonds between the colonies and Great Britain.
- It laid out the government's philosophy by stating that a government can rule only with the consent of those being governed and that the purpose of the government is to protect its people's rights.
- The Declaration of Independence was primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson.
- On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a 'Committee of Five' to draft the declaration. The committee comprised John Adams of Massachusetts, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.
- There is no conclusive evidence indicating the exact process followed to draft the declaration. But it is known that the committee discussed a general outline of the document and Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the first draft.
- Originally, he had written about Britain's support for slavery. After an objection from the delegates of South Carolina and Georgia, the passage had to be excluded from the final draft of the declaration.
- Probably, Jefferson wrote the first draft quickly, asked for reviews from the others in the committee and made modifications pertaining to the changes suggested. The committee came up with a copy and presented it to Congress on June 28, 1776. The copy was titled, "A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled."
- The Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776. John Adams thought it would be an important day in the American history. But the Declaration of Independence was dated July 4, which went on to become the American Independence Day.
- After long days of debate over what should/should not be included in the declaration, the Congress made a few changes to the writing, deleted some text and approved the declaration on July 4, 1776. On the same day, it was sent for publication.
- The first statement in the Declaration of Independence asserts by law, the right people have, to be politically independent.
- The preamble states that people have a right to abolish a government which does not abide by its rules and fails to follow its principles.
- The declaration endorses a person's right to equality and states that every individual has a right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
- The list of grievances against King George justifies him as being unfit to rule the country. This section of the declaration explains the unsuccessful attempts made by the citizens to convince the King to change his unjustifiable policies.
- The last section of the Declaration of Independence asserts the people's need to overthrow the British rule and establish a government of their own. This section establishes the right of the colonies to end their ties with the British and become independent states.
- It's a myth that the declaration was signed on July 4, 1776.
- The Journals of Continental Congress, which published the names of the signers, led everyone to believe that the declaration was signed. In reality, the signed version of the declaration came up at a later date.
- Thomas McKean, one of the signers brought to notice that some of the signers were not even elected to Congress on July 4. It brought forth the fact that if the declaration were signed on the 4th of July, Charles Thomson and John Hancock would have been the only two signatories.
- Hancock and Thomson are believed to have signed the handwritten version, but the historian Julian P. Boyd thought this unlikely.
People who Signed the Declaration
- On July 19, 1776, Congress ordered a copy of the Declaration of Independence to be written in parchment for the delegates to sign.
- Thomson's clerk, Timothy Matlack produced this copy and titled it, 'The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America'.
- Many of the delegates (around 34 of them) signed it on August 2, 1776 and some signed it later.
- The engrossed copy of the declaration proudly bears the signature of John Hancock, the Congress President then. His signature appears above the other signers. Thomas McKean is believed to be the last person to sign.
- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were among the other signers of the declaration. Edward Rutledge was the youngest signatory of the Declaration of Independence while the oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin. Thomas McKean, Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott and Lewis Morris were the ones signing late. Matthew Thornton, one of the late signers had to sign on the lower right of the document due to lack of space.
- The number of signers was 56.
- Interestingly, three delegates who were present for the debate never signed the declaration. They were Robert Livingston, John Dickinson and Thomas Lynch. Livingston had returned to New York before the signing that took place on August 2. Dickinson thought the declaration as being premature and did not want to sign. Lynch could not sign the declaration on account of his illness.
Today the declaration is safe with the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C. It has been there since 1952, before which it was in the custody of the Library of Congress. The central idea held by the Declaration of Independence is that people have the right to revolt against an oppressive government. This idea is held in high regard by the Americans and it has an influence on the world political scenario. The declaration bases itself on the idea that all men are created equal.