Declaration of Independence
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee brought what came to be called the Lee Resolution before the Continental Congress. This resolution stated “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states …” Congress debated independence for several days. The Committee of Five — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson — was given the job of drafting a formal Declaration of Independence. They gave the task of writing the document to Jefferson.
Writing the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration contained 3 sections: a general statement of natural rights theory and the purpose of government; a list of grievances against the British King; and the declaration of independence from England. More than 20 years later, the Second, Third, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution would contain prohibitions against the government to prevent the same forms of tyranny as were listed as grievances. Jefferson’s writing was influenced by George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, as well as by his study of natural rights theory and the writings of John Locke, including Two Treatises of Government. Franklin and Adams edited Jefferson’s draft, and the final document was presented to Congress about two weeks later.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from England. Congress made several changes to Jefferson’s draft, including removing references condemning slavery. On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was adopted. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed it that day. The rest of the Congress signed two months later. By affixing their names to the document, the signers courageously pledged to each other their “lives … fortunes … and sacred honor.”
Who Signed the Declaration of Independence
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
Declaration of Independence Explained
Adams penned defenses of American rights in the 1770s and was one of the earliest advocates of colonial independence from Great Britain. The author of the Massachusetts Constitution and Declaration of Rights of 1780, Adams was also a champion of individual liberty. He favored the addition of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.
Franklin’s considerable work in the areas of journalism, science, and invention often obscure his many contributions to the creation of the Constitution and protection of American freedoms.
Hancock was a wealthy merchant whose bank account helped to finance the radical activities of the Sons of Liberty. Hancock himself became a thorn in the side of the British, who seized his ship, the Liberty, in 1768 and put a price on his head in 1775.
Thomas Jefferson hoped that he would be remembered for three accomplishments: his founding of the University of Virginia, his crafting of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,
Richard Henry Lee
A planter and slaveholder, he was tall, handsome, and genteel in his manners. Raised in a conservative environment, Lee was nonetheless radical in his social and political views.
Mason’s ideas helped to shape the Founding documents of the United States, but few Americans remember him today. The words he used when writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution of 1776.
Sherman was highly esteemed by his contemporaries. At Sherman’s death, Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College, wrote, “He was an extraordinary man—a venerable uncorrupted patriot.” A talented politician, Sherman was also a man of deep religious faith who approached life seriously.