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Declaration of Independence (1776)
Although the section of the Lee Resolution dealing with independence was not adopted until July 2, Congress appointed on June 10 a committee of five to draft a statement of independence for the colonies. The committee included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman, with the actual writing delegated to Jefferson.
Jefferson drafted the statement between June 11 and 28, submitted drafts to Adams and Franklin who made some changes, and then presented the draft to the Congress following the July 2nd adoption of the independence section of the Lee Resolution. The congressional revision process took all of July 3rd and most of July 4th. Finally, in the afternoon of July 4th, the Declaration was adopted.
Under the supervision of the Jefferson committee, the approved Declaration was printed on July 5th and a copy was attached to the "rough journal of the Continental Congress for July 4th." These printed copies, bearing only the names of John Hancock, President, and Charles Thomson, secretary, were distributed to state assemblies, conventions, committees of safety, and commanding officers of the Continental troops.
On July 19th, Congress ordered that the Declaration be engrossed on parchment with a new title, "the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America," and "that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress." Engrossing is the process of copying an official document in a large hand. The engrosser of the Declaration was probably Timothy Matlock, an assistant to Charles Thomson, secretary to the Congress.
On August 2nd John Hancock, the President of the Congress, signed the engrossed copy with a bold signature. The other delegates, following custom, signed beginning at the right with the signatures arranged by states from northernmost New Hampshire to southernmost Georgia. Although all delegates were not present on August 2nd, 56 delegates eventually signed the document. Late signers were Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton, who was unable to place his signature with the other New Hampshire delegates due to a lack of space. Some delegates, including Robert R. Livingston of New York, a member of the drafting committee, never signed the Declaration.
(Information excerpted from National Archives Education Staff. The Constitution: Evolution of a Government. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001.)
Transcript of Declaration of Independence (1776)
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:
U.S. National Archives & Records