The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was the first formal statement by a nation’s people asserting their right to choose their own government.

 

In 1775, when armed conflicts began between bands of American colonists and British soldiers, the Americans were fighting foe their rights as subjects under the crown. All that changed the following year with the revolutionary war went into full swing. In mid-June of 1776, the continental congress was faced with a choice, remain connected to the crown or fight for independence.  the congress tasked five men to draft a document that would formal state the colonies intentions, those five included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin.  The document, written largely by Jefferson, was adopted on July 4th 1776, which is the date now celebrated as the birth of our nation.  

America Before the Declaration of Independence

Even after the first battles of the war broke out, few colonists wanted independence from Britain, and those who did, like John Adams, were seen as radicals.  However, this changed during the following year when King George III ordered the enlargement of  the Royal Army and Navy in 1775. King George intended to crush the colonies into submission using the full strength of the British Military. Word about this spread to the colonies in January, 1776, this strengthened the radicals cause and lead my loyalists to abandon their hope of reconciliation with the crown.  In the same Month, Thomas Pain published his Pamphlet, "Common Sense", in which he argued that independence is a "natural right" and the only possible course for the colonies. his pamphlet sold more than 150,000 copies in its first weeks of publication. 

In march of 1776, North Carolina revolutionary convention was the first to vote in favor of independence and seven other colonies followed suite by mid-may. On June 7,  Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia delegate called for the other colonies independence before the Continental Congress when it met at the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in Philadelphia. after heated debate, the congress decided to take a recess for a few weeks, but before they left they order five men to draft a formal document that would justify the break from great Britain. those men were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. This draft would become the Declaration of independence

Thomas Jefferson Writes the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson had earned a reputation as an eloquent speaker for the parotitic cause from his 1774 publication of “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” which is why he was given the task of drafting the document. in 1823, Jefferson wrote that the other members of the congress, “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections….I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.”

The Declaration was split up into five parts, introduction, a preamble, a body (divided into two sections) and a conclusion. The introduction stated that independence from Great Britain had become "necessary"  for the colonies. The Body was basically a list of grievances against the Crown and the Preamble includes the documents most famous passage, "“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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.”

The Continental Congress Votes for Independence

On July 1, the congress reconvened and the following day, 12 of the 13 colonies accepted the resolution for Independence. The process of consideration and revision of the declaration continued into July 3 and into the late morning of July 4, during which Congress deleted and revised some one-fifth of its text. There were no changes to the preamble and the majority of the document remained in Jefferson's words. the congress officially adopted the declaration of independence on the fourth of July though it was not signed until August 2. 

 

The Declaration  of independence became a significant landmark in the history of democracy. In addition to its importance in the fate of the fledgling American nation, it also exerted a tremendous influence outside the United States, most memorably in France during the French Revolution. Together with the Constitution nd the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence is one of the three essential founding documents of the United States government.

Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

anthlab@temple.edu

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