On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, declaring the 13 American colonies as independent from Britain. The colonies, which were already at war with Britain, formed a union that became the United States of America.
1. The Idea of Independence Takes Place
Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, presented a resolution on June 7, 1776 declaring that the 13 United Colonies should be free and independent. He went on to say that Britain should have no input in the politics of the colonial states and that the states have no allegiance to Britain. This became known as the Lee Resolution.
2. Committee Drafts a Statement
After Richard Lee presented his resolution, a Committee of Five was formed to draw up the basis for independence. The committee members were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. On July 2, 1776 in the Philadelphia State House, the Committee of Five presented Congress the draft for the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was officially approved on July 4, 1776.
3. Off to the Printers
The Philadelphia printer, John Dunlap printed the first copies of the Declaration of Independence. Only 21 of the original copies exist today. The prints were posted in all the towns and cities of the 13 colonies for the public to read. The declaration was also read to the citizens in public squares, in churches and in state houses. People began carrying copies of the Declaration of Independence in parades and newspapers reprinted the document across the east coast.
4. Signing the Declaration of Independence
Most of the members of Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776 with the exception of a few. George Wythe signed it on August 7, while Richard Henry Lee, Oliver Wilcott and Elbridge Gerry signed the declaration on September 4. On November 19, Matthew Thornton added his signature and in 1781, Thomas McKean signed the document.
5. A Symbol of Liberty
The Declaration of Independence primarily drafted by Thomas Jefferson is a symbol of liberty for the United States of America. Jefferson put into print the ideals of liberty held in the hearts of the American people fighting the tyranny of Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence lists the grievances that colonists have against Britain’s king and breaks the hold Great Britain has on America.
6. The Thirteen Colonies
The 13 American colonies affected by the Declaration of Independence are:
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
7. The Original Declaration of Independence
The original Declaration of Independence was engrossed in clear handwriting probably by Timothy Matlack. He often assisted Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress. It was written on parchment paper made from stretched animal skin that has been treated with lime. The skin was then stretched. The original document also has writing on the backside, at the bottom of the page that says, “Original Declaration of Independence, dated 4th July 1776.” The writing on the back is upside down.
8. The Travels of the Declaration of Independence
After the signing ceremony, which took place on August 2, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was probably kept in Charles Thomson’s office. He was the Secretary of the Continental Congress until 1789. When the Congress traveled to other colonies, they took the document with them. The Declaration of Independence found a permanent home, along with the Bill of Rights on December 13, 1952. These documents were placed with Wayne Grover, the Archivist of the United States. On December 15, 1952, they were enshrined in the National Archives, Washington D.C. in the presence of President Harry S. Truman.
9. Most Famous Line
The following line is the most well-known and potent statements in the Declaration of Independence:
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.
10. Deleted from the Original Draft
When Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the members of the Committee of Five presented the original draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress, more than one-quarter of the document was deleted and 47 changes were made. The most notable was Jefferson’s denunciation of the slave trade. Congress deleted this from the text, which Jefferson resented.
Learn more with these Declaration of Independence websites.