Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address of March 4, 1865 stated that the Declaration of Independence is one of the noblest of America's official documents. The time preceding the summer of 1776 was full of turmoil as the thirteen British colonies had openly declared revolt against the British imperial rule. On 14th June 1775, the inhabitants of these thirteen colonies formed the Continental Army, and wrested control over the colonies. It was in 1776, the declaration was drafted that claimed sovereignty for the united thirteen colonies as a free state, charting a course for the future. Who drafted the declaration, is an interesting question, for the words were drafted by one person, but echoed the thoughts, wishes and sentiments of a thousand. Presently the most popular signed version of the declaration is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Drafting of the Declaration
The Second Continental Congress declared war on Great Britain, decreeing themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. The congress selected a committee to draft a declaration of independence document, that would serve as a directive for the future. The committee comprised of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman. They selected Thomas Jefferson to author the declaration.
This has always baffled historians, who wondered why someone as young as Thomas Jefferson was chosen as he was only 33 years old when he wrote the declaration, and a relatively new entrant in the Congress. Jefferson had joined the Congress only a year ago in June, 1775 and was given such a huge responsibility, even when there were others more experienced. Reasons given included Jefferson being a Virginian, who was reputed for his mild, but frank, explicit and decisive conduct, as well as a reputation for literature and science, combined with his talent for written expression. Most of this information along with some more can be found in John Adams' letters written to Timothy Pickering as a response to Pickering's questions about the writing of the declaration and the author's selection. The letters were published in 1850.
Between the period of June 11 to 28, Jefferson drafted the transcript, which was presented to Congress with a few changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, on July 2, 1776. They approved it on July 4, however, the President of the Congress John Hancock, along with 56 delegates who eventually signed the declaration a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776. The document was not signed by a few delegates, one of them was Robert R. Livingston, a member of the drafting committee. The date of signature has been disputed by a few historians. To put this debate to rest, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams confirmed that it had been signed by Congress on July 4, 1776.
About the Declaration
The nation's most cherished symbol of liberty was drafted in a language that not only assuaged the sentiments of the inhabitants of free Americans, but laid the ground for ensuring liberty, equality and political independence to all. The first section of the draft included justification for proposing independence of the United States by listing grievances against King George III's colonial rule, and by asserting certain natural rights, including a right of revolution. Each section paved the way for freedom of mind and action.
The second section, believed to be the basis of creating United States of America included the ideas and ideals of rights and freedom. It reads, "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". This section influenced Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States as he set about abolishing slavery, and promoted the rights of marginalized groups, ensuring that the declaration not only expressed, but also held the highest principles of the American Revolution.
According to Thomas Jefferson, the declaration was more a sentiment shared by supporters of the American Revolution, and not entirely original in thought, and contained ideas and phrases from his own draft of the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia, and George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.