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Declaration of Independence

Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers

The Declaration of Independence document proclaimed the independence of the 13 British colonies in America and was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The declaration recounted the grievances of the colonies against the British crown and declared the colonies to be free and independent states. The proclamation of independence marked the culmination of a political process that had begun as a protest against oppressive restrictions imposed by the mother country on colonial trade, manufacturing, and political liberty and had developed into a revolutionary struggle resulting in the establishment of a new nation.

After the U.S. was established, the statement of grievances in the declaration ceased to have any but historic significance. The political philosophy enunciated in the declaration, however, had a continuing influence on political developments in America and Europe for many years. It served as a source of authority for the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Its influence is manifest in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted by the National Assembly of France in 1789, during the French Revolution. In the 19th century, various peoples of Europe and of Latin America fighting for freedom incorporated in their programs the principles formulated in the Declaration of Independence.

The procedure by which the Declaration of Independence came into being was as follows: On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, in the name of the Virginia delegates to the Continental

Congress, moved that "these united colonies are and of right ought 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." This motion was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts, but action thereon was deferred until July 1, and the resolution was passed on the following day.

Committee

The Committee

In the meantime, a committee (appointed June 11) comprising the delegates Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston was preparing a declaration in line with Lee's resolution. Jefferson prepared the draft, using "neither book nor pamphlet," as he later said. Adams and Franklin made a number of minor changes in Jefferson's draft before it was submitted to Congress, which, on July 4, made a number of additional small alterations, deleted several sections, including one condemning black slavery, incorporated Lee's resolution, and issued the whole as the Declaration of Independence.

After the Declaration was adopted, July 4, 1776, it was turned over to John Dunlap, printer, to be printed on broadsides. The original copy was lost and one of his broadsides was attached to a page in the journal of the Congress. It was read aloud July 8 in Philadelphia, PA, Easton, PA, and Trenton, NJ. On July 9 at 6 p.m. it was read by order of Gen. George Washington to the troops assembled on the Common in New York City (City Hall Park).

The declaration was adopted by a unanimous vote of the delegates of 12 colonies, those representing New York not voting because they had not been authorized to do so. On July 9, however, the New York Provincial Congress voted to endorse the declaration:

"Resolved, That the Declaration passed on the 4th, be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile of 'The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America' and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress."

The document was engrossed on parchment in accordance with a resolution passed by Congress on July 19. On August 2, it was signed by the 53 members present. The three absentees signed subsequently.

 

SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Connecticut

Samuel Huntington (1731-96)
Roger Sherman (1721-93)
William Williams (1731-1811)
Oliver Wolcott (1726-97)

Delaware

Thomas McKean (1734-1817)
George Read (1733-98)
Caesar Rodney (1728-84)

Georgia

Button Gwinnett (1735-77)
Lyman Hall (1724-90)
George Walton (1741-1804)

Maryland

Charles Carroll (1737-1832)
Samuel Chase (1741-1811)
William Paca (1740-99)
Thomas Stone (1743-87)

Massachusetts

John Adams (1735-1826)
Samuel Adams (1722-1803)
Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814)
John Hancock (1737-93)
Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814)

New Hampshire

Josiah Bartlett (1729-95)
Matthew Thornton (1714?-1803)
William Whipple (1730-85)

New Jersey

Abraham Clark (1726-94)
John Hart (1711?-79)
Francis Hopkinson (1737-91)
Richard Stockton (1730-81)
John Witherspoon (1723-94)

New York

William Floyd (1734-1821)
Francis Lewis (1713-1803?)
Philip Livingston (1716-78)
Lewis Morris (1726-98)

North Carolina

Joseph Hewes (1730-79)
William Hooper (1742-90)
John Penn (1741?-88)

Pennsylvania

George Clymer (1739-1813)
Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)
Robert Morris (1734-1806)
John Morton (1724?-77)
George Ross (1730-79)
Benjamin Rush (1745-1813)
James Smith (1719?-1806)
George Taylor (1716-81)
James Wilson (1742-98)

Rhode Island

William Ellery (1727-1820)
Stephen Hopkins (1707-85)

South Carolina

Thomas Heyward (1746-1809)
Thomas Lynch (1749-79)
Arthur Middleton (1742-88)
Edward Rutledge (1749-1800)

Virginia

Carter Braxton (1736-97)
Benjamin Harrison (1726?-91)
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-97)
Richard Henry Lee (1732-94)
Thomas Nelson (1738-89)
George Wythe (1726-1806)

 

Congress directed that copies be sent "to the Assemblies, Conventions, and Committees or Councils of Safety, and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States and at the head of the army."

Upon organization of the national government in 1789, the Declaration of Independence was assigned for safekeeping to the Department of State. In 1841, it was deposited in the Patent Office, then a bureau of the Department of State; in 1877 it was returned to the State Department. Because of the rapid fading of the text and the deterioration of the parchment, the document was withdrawn from exhibition in 1894. With other historic American documents, it is now enshrined in the National Archives Exhibition Hall, Washington, D.C., and is sealed in a glass and bronze case filled with inert helium gas.

An article from Funk & Wagnalls® New Encyclopedia. © 2005 World Almanac Education Group. A WRC Media Company. All rights reserved. Except as otherwise permitted by written agreement, uses of the work inconsistent with U.S. and applicable foreign copyright and related laws are prohibited.