|United States Declaration of Independence|
File:United States Declaration of Independence.jpg|
1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy
|Ratified||July 4, 1776|
Engrossed copy: National Archives|
Rough draft: Library of Congress
|Author(s)||Thomas Jefferson et al. (engrosser: probably Timothy Matlack)|
|Signatories||56 delegates to the Continental Congress|
|Purpose||To announce and explain separation from Great Britain|
The United States Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule. These states would found a new nation – the United States of America. John Adams was a leader in pushing for independence, which was passed on July 2 with no opposing vote cast. A committee of five had already drafted the formal declaration, to be ready when Congress voted on independence.
John Adams persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson to compose the original draft of the document, which Congress would edit to produce the final version. The Declaration was ultimately a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The next day, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: "The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America." But Independence Day is actually celebrated on July 4, the date that the Declaration of Independence was approved.
After ratifying the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as the printed Dunlap broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The source copy used for this printing has been lost, and may have been a copy in Thomas Jefferson's hand. Jefferson's original draft, complete with changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, and Jefferson's notes of changes made by Congress, are preserved at the Library of Congress. The best-known version of the Declaration is a signed copy that is displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and which is popularly regarded as the official document. This engrossed copy was ordered by Congress on July 19 and signed primarily on August 2.
The sources and interpretation of the Declaration have been the subject of much scholarly inquiry. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, references to the text of the Declaration were few in the following years. Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his rhetoric (as in the Gettysburg Address of 1863) and his policies. Since then, it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence:
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.
This has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language", containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history". The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy and argued that it is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence inspired many other similar documents in other countries, the first being the 1789 Declaration of Flanders issued during the Brabant Revolution in the Austrian Netherlands (modern-day Belgium). It also served as the primary model for numerous declarations of independence across Europe and Latin America, as well as Africa (Liberia) and Oceania (New Zealand) during the first half of the 19th century.
- ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 5.
- ^ The thirteen colonies were: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
- ^ "Declaring Independence", Revolutionary War, Digital History, University of Houston. From Adams' notes: "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."
- ^ Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776
- ^ Boyd (1976), The Declaration of Independence: The Mystery of the Lost Original, p. 438
- ^ "Did You Know...Independence Day Should Actually Be July 2?" (Press release). National Archives and Records Administration. June 1, 2005. https://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2005/nr05-83.html. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
- ^ The Declaration of Independence: A History, The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- ^ Stephen E. Lucas, "Justifying America: The Declaration of Independence as a Rhetorical Document", in Thomas W. Benson, ed., American Rhetoric: Context and Criticism, Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989, p. 85.
- ^ Ellis, American Creation, 55–56.
- ^ McPherson, Second American Revolution, 126.
- ^ Armitage, David (2007). The Declaration of Independence: A Global History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 113–126. ISBN 0-674-02282-3.