The Declaration of Independence
Delegates from each of the Thirteen Colonies met in
Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 to decide the case
for liberty. The goal was to convince the States that the
time had come for the United Colonies to declare their
independence from Mother England.
It was an incredibly difficult time for the young United States. For more than a year, Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies had been at war over the issue of "taxation without representation." The Colonies believed that their rights were being impeded by the British, who were levying taxes upon them without their consent.
The conflict had quickly escalated into more of an issue
than just taxation, however, and many of the Colonies had started to think that they
were capable of governing themselves. They were persuaded that Parliament wasn't
looking out for their interests, proven by the fact that despite their population the
Colonies had not been allowed represent themselves in the British Legislature.
As a result, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in June of 1776.
Slightly more than a month later, the Declaration of Independence was proposed to the
States. John Hancock, the first signatory, was the only person to sign on July 4. Many
of the other delegates would place their names on the completed Document on August 2
of that same year. The last person to sign, the New Hampshire delegate Matthew
Thornton, endorsed the document on November 4, 1776.
The Lee Resolution
The Lee Resolution
The Lee Resolution, also known as the resolution of
independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress
declaring the Thirteen Colonies to be independent of the British
Empire. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed it on June
7, 1776. It is the earliest form and draft of the Declaration of
The text of the Resolution stated:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right
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. That it is expedient forthwith to take the
most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of
confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their
consideration and approbation.
The Committee of Five
From Left: Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Robert Livingston
First draft of the Declaration of Independence, presented by the Committee of Five
Early in the development, many delegates weren't yet allowed to vote for independence
as the states had not yet authorized them to do so. In the meantime, a group of men
were appointed to draft an official declaration, with hopes that the states would soon be
willing to back the document when it was sent to the crown in England.
On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a "Committee of Five", consisting of John Adams
of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia,
Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, to draft a declaration.
This Declaration committee operated from June 11,1776 until July 5, 1776, the day on
which the Declaration was published.
The Committee of Five first presented the document to Congress on June 28, 1776.
Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of
Originally, the delegates pushed for Richard Henry Lee, author of the Lee Resolution, to write the
Declaration of Independence, not Jefferson. However,
circumstances changed the course of history. First, Lee
was appointed to the Committee of Confederation for
the writing of the Articles of Confederation, and
thought that being part of both committees would be
too great an effort. Second, his wife became gravely ill
during the Philadelphia convention, forcing him to
return home prematurely.
A young delegate from Virginia who had shown great
promise was selected to take Lee's place. His name was Thomas Jefferson, and he
would quickly become one of the most important individuals in the history of the United
States. What most people don't know is that, at first, Jefferson had no interest in
penning the Declaration. He wanted John Adams to do it instead. Adams writes in his
account of the episode in a letter to Timothy Pickering, a politician from
Massachusetts and a good friend of Adams:
Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I said, 'I will not,' 'You should do it.'
'Oh! no.' 'Why will you not? You ought to do it.' 'I will not.' 'Why?' 'Reasons
enough.' 'What can be your reasons?' 'Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a
Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am
obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason
third, you can write ten times better than I can.' 'Well,' said Jefferson, 'if you are
decided, I will do as well as I can.' 'Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will
have a meeting.'
And so, it was settled. Over the course of seventeen days, in between meetings and other
governmental affairs, Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence under the
advisement of the Committee. It was an act that secured Jefferson's name in history
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Document Images courtesy of the Library of Congress under the Open Government License
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