United States Declaration of Independence

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United States Declaration of Independence
1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy
1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy
Created June–July 1776
Ratified July 4, 1776
Location Engrossed copy: National Archives
Rough draft: Library of Congress
Authors Thomas Jefferson et al.
Signers 56 delegates to the Continental Congress
Purpose To announce and explain separation from Britain[1]

The United States Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain were now independent states, and thus no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is 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 birthday of the United States of AmericaIndependence Day—is celebrated on July 4, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress.

After finalizing the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as a printed broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The most famous version of the Declaration, a signed copy that is usually regarded as the Declaration of Independence, is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. According to most historians, Congress signed this document on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4, as is often believed.

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 rights, including a right of revolution. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, the text of the Declaration was initially ignored after the American Revolution. Its stature grew over the years, particularly the second sentence, a sweeping statement of human rights:

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 sentence has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language"[2] and "the most potent and consequential words in American history".[3] The passage has often been used to promote the rights of marginalized groups, and came to represent for many people a moral standard for which the United States should strive. This view was greatly influenced by Abraham Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy,[4] and promoted the idea that the Declaration is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.



Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, argued that Parliament was a foreign legislature that was unconstitutionally trying to extend its sovereignty into the colonies.

Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.

Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1775[5]

By the time the Declaration of Independence was adopted in July 1776, the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain had been at war for more than a year. Relations between the colonies and the mother country had been deteriorating since the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and so Parliament enacted a series of measures to increase tax revenue from the colonies. Parliament believed that these acts, such as the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767, were a legitimate means of having the colonies pay their fair share of the costs to keep the colonies in the British Empire.[6]

Many colonists, however, had developed a different conception of the empire. Because the colonies were not directly represented in Parliament, colonists argued that Parliament had no right to levy taxes upon them. This tax dispute was part of a larger divergence between British and American interpretations of the British Constitution and the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies.[7] The orthodox British view, dating from the Glorious Revolution of 1688, was that Parliament was the supreme authority throughout the empire, and so by definition anything Parliament did was constitutional.[8] In the colonies, however, the idea had developed that the British Constitution recognized certain fundamental rights that no government—not even Parliament—could violate.[9] After the Townshend Acts, some essayists even began to question whether Parliament had any legitimate jurisdiction in the colonies at all.[10] Anticipating the arrangement of the British Commonwealth,[11] by 1774 American writers such as Samuel Adams, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson were arguing that Parliament was the legislature of Great Britain only, and that the colonies, which had their own legislatures, were connected to the rest of the empire only through their allegiance to the Crown.[12]

Congress convenes

The issue of Parliament's authority in the colonies became a crisis after Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774 to punish the Province of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. Many colonists saw the Coercive Acts as a violation of the British Constitution and thus a threat to the liberties of all of British America. In September 1774, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia to coordinate a response. Congress organized a boycott of British goods and petitioned the king for repeal of the acts. These measures were unsuccessful because King George III and the North ministry were determined not to retreat on the question of parliamentary supremacy. As the king wrote to Prime Minister Lord North in November 1774, "blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent".[13]

Even after fighting in the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain.[14] When the Second Continental Congress convened at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in May 1775, some delegates hoped for eventual independence, but no one yet advocated declaring it.[15] Although many colonists no longer believed that Parliament had any sovereignty over them, they still professed loyalty to King George, whom they hoped would intercede on their behalf. They were to be disappointed: in late 1775, the king rejected Congress's second petition, issued a Proclamation of Rebellion, and announced before Parliament on October 26 that he was even considering "friendly offers of foreign assistance" to suppress the rebellion.[16] A pro-American minority in Parliament warned that the government was driving the colonists towards independence.[17]

Towards independence

In January 1776, just as it became clear in the colonies that the king was not inclined to act as a conciliator, Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense was published.[18] Paine, who had only recently arrived in the colonies from England, argued in favor of colonial independence, advocating republicanism as an alternative to monarchy and hereditary rule.[19] Common Sense introduced no new ideas,[20] and probably had little direct effect on Congress's thinking about independence; its importance was in stimulating public debate on a topic that few had previously dared to openly discuss.[21] Public support for separation from Great Britain steadily increased after the publication of Paine's enormously popular pamphlet.[22]

The Assembly Room in Philadelphia's Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Although some colonists still held out hope for reconciliation, developments in early 1776 further strengthened public support for independence. In February 1776, colonists learned of Parliament's passage of the Prohibitory Act, which established a blockade of American ports and declared American ships to be enemy vessels. John Adams, a strong supporter of independence, believed that Parliament had effectively declared American independence before Congress had been able to. Adams labeled the Prohibitory Act the "Act of Independency", calling it "a compleat Dismemberment of the British Empire".[23] Support for declaring independence grew even more when it was confirmed that King George had hired German mercenaries to use against his American subjects.[24]

Despite this growing popular support for independence, Congress lacked the clear authority to declare it. Delegates had been elected to Congress by thirteen different governments—which included extralegal conventions, ad hoc committees, and elected assemblies—and were bound by the instructions given to them. Regardless of their personal opinions, delegates could not vote to declare independence unless their instructions permitted such an action.[25] Several colonies, in fact, expressly prohibited their delegates from taking any steps towards separation from Great Britain, while other delegations had instructions that were ambiguous on the issue.[26] As public sentiment for separation from Great Britain grew, advocates of independence sought to have the Congressional instructions revised. For Congress to declare independence, a majority of delegations would need authorization to vote for independence, and at least one colonial government would need to specifically instruct its delegation to propose a declaration of independence in Congress. Between April and July 1776, a "complex political war"[27] was waged in order to bring this about.[28]

Revising instructions

In the campaign to revise Congressional instructions, many Americans formally expressed their support for separation from Great Britain in what were effectively state and local declarations of independence. Historian Pauline Maier identified more than ninety such declarations that were issued throughout the Thirteen Colonies from April to July 1776.[29] These "declarations" took a variety of forms. Some were formal, written instructions for Congressional delegations, such as the Halifax Resolves of April 12, with which North Carolina became the first colony to explicitly authorize its delegates to vote for independence.[30] Others were legislative acts that officially ended British rule in individual colonies, such as on May 4, when the Rhode Island legislature became to the first to declare its independence from Great Britain.[31] Many "declarations" were resolutions adopted at town or county meetings that offered support for independence. A few came in the form of jury instructions, such as the statement issued on April 23, 1776, by Chief Justice William Henry Drayton of South Carolina: "the law of the land authorizes me to declare...that George the Third, King of Great Britain...has no authority over us, and we owe no obedience to him."[32] Most of these declarations are now obscure, having been overshadowed by the declaration approved by Congress on July 4.[33]

Some colonies held back from endorsing independence. Resistance was centered in the middle colonies of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.[34] Advocates of independence saw Pennsylvania as the key: if that colony could be converted to the pro-independence cause, it was believed that the others would follow.[35] On May 1, however, opponents of independence retained control of the Pennsylvania Assembly in a special election that had focused on the question of independence.[36] In response, on May 10 Congress passed a resolution, which had been introduced by John Adams, calling on colonies without a "government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs" to adopt new governments.[37] The resolution passed unanimously, and was even supported by Pennsylvania's John Dickinson, the leader of the anti-independence faction in Congress, who believed that it did not apply to his colony.[38]

This Day the Congress has passed the most important Resolution, that ever was taken in America.
—John Adams, May 15, 1776[39]

As was the custom, Congress appointed a committee to draft a preamble that would explain the purpose of the resolution. John Adams wrote the preamble, which stated that because King George had rejected reconciliation and was even hiring foreign mercenaries to use against the colonies, "it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed".[40] Everyone understood that Adams's preamble was meant to encourage the overthrow of the governments of Pennsylvania and Maryland, which were still under proprietary governance.[41] Congress passed the preamble on May 15 after several days of debate, but four of the middle colonies voted against it, and the Maryland delegation walked out in protest.[42] Adams regarded his May 15 preamble as effectively an American declaration of independence, although he knew that a formal declaration would still have to be made.[43]

Lee's resolution and the final push

On the same day that Congress passed Adams's radical preamble, the Virginia Convention set the stage for a formal Congressional declaration of independence. On May 15, the Convention instructed Virginia's congressional delegation "to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain".[44] In accordance with those instructions, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a three-part resolution to Congress on June 7. The motion, which was seconded by John Adams, called on Congress to declare independence, form foreign alliances, and prepare a plan of colonial confederation. The part of the resolution relating to declaring independence read:

Resolved, 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.[45]

Lee's resolution met with resistance in the ensuing debate. Opponents of the resolution, while conceding that reconciliation with Great Britain was unlikely, argued that declaring independence was premature, and that securing foreign aid should take priority.[46] Advocates of the resolution countered that foreign governments would not intervene in an internal British struggle, and so a formal declaration of independence was needed before foreign aid was possible. All Congress needed to do, they insisted, was to "declare a fact which already exists".[47] Delegates from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York were still not yet authorized to vote for independence, however, and some of them threatened to leave Congress if the resolution were adopted. Congress therefore voted on June 10 to postpone further discussion of Lee's resolution for three weeks.[48] Until then, Congress decided that a committee should prepare a document announcing and explaining independence in the event that Lee's resolution was approved when it was brought up again in July.

Support for a Congressional declaration of independence was consolidated in the final weeks of June 1776. On June 14, the Connecticut Assembly instructed its delegates to propose independence, and the following day the legislatures of New Hampshire and Delaware authorized their delegates to declare independence.[49] In Pennsylvania, political struggles ended with the dissolution of the colonial assembly, and on June 18 a new Conference of Committees under Thomas McKean authorized Pennsylvania's delegates to declare independence.[50] On June 15, the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, which had been governing the province since January 1776, resolved that Royal Governor William Franklin was "an enemy to the liberties of this country" and had him arrested.[51] On June 21, they chose new delegates to Congress and empowered them to join in a declaration of independence.[52]

Only Maryland and New York had yet to authorize independence. When the Continental Congress had adopted Adams's radical May 15 preamble, Maryland's delegates walked out and sent to the Maryland Convention for instructions.[53] On May 20, the Maryland Convention rejected Adams's preamble, instructing its delegates to remain against independence, but Samuel Chase went to Maryland and, thanks to local resolutions in favor of independence, was able to get the Maryland Convention to change its mind on June 28.[54] Only the New York delegates were unable to get revised instructions. When Congress had been considering the resolution of independence on June 8, the New York Provincial Congress told the delegates to wait.[55] But on June 30, the Provincial Congress evacuated New York as British forces approached, and would not convene again until July 10. This meant that New York's delegates would not be authorized to declare independence until after Congress had made its decision.[56]

Draft and adoption

While political maneuvering was setting the stage for an official declaration of independence, a document explaining the decision was being written. 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. Because the committee left no minutes, there is some uncertainty about how the drafting process proceeded—accounts written many years later by Jefferson and Adams, although frequently cited, are contradictory and not entirely reliable.[57] What is certain is that the committee, after discussing the general outline that the document should follow, decided that Jefferson would write the first draft.[58] Considering Congress's busy schedule, Jefferson probably had limited time for writing over the next seventeen days, and likely wrote the draft quickly.[59] He then consulted the others, made some changes, and then produced another copy incorporating these alterations. The committee presented this copy to the Congress on June 28, 1776. The title of the document was "A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled."[60] Congress ordered that the draft "lie on the table".[61]

John Trumbull's famous painting is often identified as a depiction of the signing of the Declaration, but it actually shows the drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress.[62]

On Monday, July 1, having tabled the draft of the declaration, Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole and resumed debate on Lee's resolution of independence.[63] John Dickinson made one last effort to delay the decision, arguing that Congress should not declare independence without first securing a foreign alliance and finalizing the Articles of Confederation.[64] John Adams gave a speech in reply to Dickinson, restating the case for an immediate declaration.

After a long day of speeches, a vote was taken. As always, each colony cast a single vote; the delegation for each colony—numbering two to seven members—voted amongst themselves to determine the colony's vote. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against declaring independence. The New York delegation, lacking permission to vote for independence, abstained. Delaware cast no vote because the delegation was split between Thomas McKean (who voted yes) and George Read (who voted no). The remaining nine delegations voted in favor of independence, which meant that the resolution had been approved by the committee of the whole. The next step was for the resolution to be voted upon by the Congress itself. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, who was opposed to Lee's resolution but desirous of unanimity, moved that the vote be postponed until the following day.[65]

On July 2, South Carolina reversed its position and voted for independence. In the Pennsylvania delegation, Dickinson and Robert Morris abstained, allowing the delegation to vote three-to-two in favor of independence. The tie in the Delaware delegation was broken by the timely arrival of Caesar Rodney, who voted for independence. The New York delegation abstained once again, since they were still not authorized to vote for independence, although they would be allowed to do so by the New York Provincial Congress a week later.[66] The resolution of independence had been adopted with twelve affirmative votes and one abstention. With this, the colonies had officially severed political ties with Great Britain.[67] In a now-famous letter written to his wife on the following day, John Adams predicted that July 2 would become a great American holiday.[68] Adams thought that the vote for independence would be commemorated; he did not foresee that Americans—including himself—would instead celebrate Independence Day on the date that the announcement of that act was finalized.[69]

After voting in favor of the resolution of independence, Congress turned its attention to the committee's draft of the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a few changes in wording and deleted nearly a fourth of the text, most notably a passage critical of the slave trade, changes that Jefferson resented.[70] On July 4, 1776, the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved and sent to the printer for publication.


Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The Dunlap broadside was the first published version of the Declaration.

The first sentence of the Declaration asserts as a matter of Natural Law the ability of a people to assume political independence, and acknowledges that the grounds for such independence must be reasonable, and therefore explicable, and ought to be explained.

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.

The next section, the famous preamble, includes the ideas and ideals that were principles of the Declaration. It is also an assertion of what is known as the "right of revolution": that is, people have certain rights, and when a government violates these rights, the people have the right to "alter or abolish" that government.[71]

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.

The next section is a list of charges against King George which aim to demonstrate that he has violated the colonists' rights and is therefore unfit to be their ruler:

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.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
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.

Many Americans still felt a kinship with the people of Great Britain, and had appealed in vain to the prominent among them, as well as to Parliament, to convince the King to relax his more objectionable policies toward the colonies. The next section represents disappointment that these attempts had been unsuccessful.

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.

In the final section, the signers assert that there exist conditions under which people must change their government, that the British have produced such conditions, and by necessity the colonies must throw off political ties with the British Crown and become independent states. The conclusion incorporates language from Lee's resolution of independence that had been passed on July 2.

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.


Thomas Jefferson considered English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) to be one of "the three greatest men that have ever lived".[72]

Historians have often sought to identify the sources that most influenced the words of the Declaration of Independence. By Jefferson's own admission, the Declaration contained no original ideas, but was instead a statement of sentiments widely shared by supporters of the American Revolution. As he explained in 1825:

Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.[73]

Jefferson's most immediate sources were two documents written in June 1776: his own draft of the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia, and George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Ideas and phrases from both of these documents appear in the Declaration of Independence.[74] They were in turn directly influenced by the 1689 English Declaration of Rights, which formally ended the reign of King James II.[75] During the American Revolution, Jefferson and other Americans looked to the English Declaration of Rights as a model of how to end the reign of an unjust king.[76]

English political theorist John Locke is usually cited as a primary influence on the Declaration. As historian Carl L. Becker wrote in 1922, "Most Americans had absorbed Locke's works as a kind of political gospel; and the Declaration, in its form, in its phraseology, follows closely certain sentences in Locke's second treatise on government."[77] The extent of Locke's influence on the American Revolution was questioned by some subsequent scholars, however, who emphasized the influence of republicanism rather than Locke's classical liberalism.[78] Historian Garry Wills argued that Jefferson was influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly Francis Hutcheson, rather than Locke,[79] an interpretation that has been strongly criticized.[80] The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath (1320) and the Dutch Act of Abjuration (1581) have also been offered as models for Jefferson's Declaration, but these arguments have been disputed.[81]


The signed, engrossed copy of the Declaration, now badly faded, is on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

The date when the Declaration was signed has long been the subject of debate. Within a decade after the event, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams all wrote that the Declaration had been signed by Congress on July 4, 1776.[82] This seemed to be confirmed by the signed copy of the Declaration, which is dated July 4. Additional support was provided by the Journals of Congress, the official public record of the Continental Congress. When the proceedings for 1776 were first published in 1777, the entry for July 4, 1776, stated that the Declaration was engrossed (carefully handwritten) and signed on that date.[83]

In 1796, signer Thomas McKean disputed that the Declaration had been signed on July 4, pointing out that some signers were not then present, including several who were not even elected to Congress until after that date.[84] "[N]o person signed it on that day nor for many days after", he later wrote.[85] Although Jefferson and Adams disagreed with McKean, his claim gained support when the Secret Journals of Congress were published in 1821.[86] The Secret Journals contained two previously unpublished entries about the Declaration. The entry for July 19 reads:

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" & that the same when engrossed be signed by every member of Congress.[87]

The entry for August 2 stated:

The declaration of Independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members.[88]

In 1884, historian Mellen Chamberlain argued that these entries indicated that the famous signed version of the Declaration had been created following the July 19 resolution, and had not been signed by Congress until August 2.[89] Historian John Hazelton confirmed in 1906 that many of the signers had not been present in Congress on July 4, that the fifty-six signers had never been together as a group, and that some delegates must have added their signatures even after August 2.[90] While it is possible that Congress signed a document on July 4 that has since been lost, historians do not think that this is likely.[91]

Although most historians have accepted the argument that the Declaration was not signed on July 4, and that the engrossed copy was not created until after July 19, legal historian Wilfred Ritz wrote in 1986 that "the historians and scholars are wrong".[92] Ritz argued that the engrossed copy of the Declaration was signed by Congress on July 4, as Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin had stated, and that it was implausible that all three men had been mistaken.[93] Ritz believed that McKean's testimony was questionable,[94] and that historians had misinterpreted the July 19 resolution. According to Ritz, this resolution did not call for a new document to be created, but rather for the existing one to be given a new title, which was necessary after New York had joined the other twelve states in declaring independence. Ritz argued that the phrase "signed by every member of Congress" in the July 19 resolution meant that delegates who had not signed the Declaration on the 4th were now required to do so.[95]

Ritz argued that about thirty-four delegates signed the Declaration on July 4, and that the others signed on or after August 2.[96] Historians who reject a July 4 signing maintain that most delegates signed on August 2, and that those eventual signers who were not present added their names later.[97]

List of signers

Fifty-six delegates eventually signed the Declaration:

President of Congress

1. John Hancock (Massachusetts)

New Hampshire

2. Josiah Bartlett
3. William Whipple
4. Matthew Thornton


5. Samuel Adams
6. John Adams
7. Robert Treat Paine
8. Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island

9. Stephen Hopkins
10. William Ellery


11. Roger Sherman
12. Samuel Huntington
13. William Williams
14. Oliver Wolcott

New York

15. William Floyd
16. Philip Livingston
17. Francis Lewis
18. Lewis Morris

New Jersey

19. Richard Stockton
20. John Witherspoon
21. Francis Hopkinson
22. John Hart
23. Abraham Clark


24. Robert Morris
25. Benjamin Rush
26. Benjamin Franklin
27. John Morton
28. George Clymer
29. James Smith
30. George Taylor
31. James Wilson
32. George Ross


33. George Read
34. Caesar Rodney
35. Thomas McKean


36. Samuel Chase
37. William Paca
38. Thomas Stone
39. Charles Carroll of Carrollton


40. George Wythe
41. Richard Henry Lee
42. Thomas Jefferson
43. Benjamin Harrison
44. Thomas Nelson, Jr.
45. Francis Lightfoot Lee
46. Carter Braxton

North Carolina

47. William Hooper
48. Joseph Hewes
49. John Penn

South Carolina

50. Edward Rutledge
51. Thomas Heyward, Jr.
52. Thomas Lynch, Jr.
53. Arthur Middleton


54. Button Gwinnett
55. Lyman Hall
56. George Walton

Signer details

Of the approximately fifty delegates who are thought to have been present in Congress during the voting on independence in early July 1776,[98] eight never signed the Declaration: John Alsop, George Clinton, John Dickinson, Charles Humphreys, Robert R. Livingston, John Rogers, Thomas Willing, and Henry Wisner.[99] Clinton, Livingston, and Wisner were attending to duties away from Congress when the signing took place. Willing and Humphreys, who voted against the resolution of independence, were replaced in the Pennsylvania delegation before the August 2 signing. Rogers had voted for the resolution of independence but was no longer a delegate on August 2. Alsop, who favored reconciliation with Great Britain, resigned rather than add his name to the document.[100] Dickinson refused to sign, believing the Declaration premature, but remained in Congress. Although George Read had voted against the resolution of independence, and Robert Morris had abstained, they both signed the Declaration.

The most famous signature on the engrossed copy is that of John Hancock, who, as President of Congress, presumably signed first.[101] Hancock's large, flamboyant signature became iconic, and John Hancock emerged in the United States an informal synonym for "signature".[102] Two future presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were among the signatories. Edward Rutledge (age 26) was the youngest signer, and Benjamin Franklin (age 70) was the oldest signer.

John Hancock's now-iconic signature on the Declaration is nearly 5 inches (13 cm) long.[103]

Some delegates, including Samuel Chase, were away on business when the Declaration was debated, but were back in Congress to sign on August 2. Other delegates were present when the Declaration was debated but added their names after August 2, including Elbridge Gerry, Lewis Morris, Oliver Wolcott, and Thomas McKean. Richard Henry Lee and George Wythe were in Virginia during July and August, but returned to Congress and signed the Declaration probably in September and October, respectively.[104]

As new delegates joined the Congress, they were also allowed to sign. Eight men signed the Declaration who did not takes seats in Congress until after July 4: Matthew Thornton, William Williams, Benjamin Rush, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, George Ross, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton.[105] Because of a lack of space, Thornton was unable to sign next to the other New Hampshire delegates; he instead placed his signature at the end of the document, on the lower right.[106]

The first published version of the Declaration, the Dunlap broadside, did not list the signers. The public did not learn who had signed the engrossed copy until January 18, 1777, when the Congress ordered that an "authenticated copy", including the names of the signers, be sent to each of the thirteen states.[107] This copy, the Goddard Broadside, was the first to list the signers.[108]

Various legends about the signing of the Declaration emerged years later, when the document had become an important national symbol. In one famous story, John Hancock supposedly said that Congress, having signed the Declaration, must now "all hang together", and Benjamin Franklin replied: "Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." The quote did not appear in print until more than fifty years after Franklin's death.[109]

Publication and reaction

Johannes Adam Simon Oertel's painting Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C., ca. 1859, depicts citizens destroying a statue of King George after the Declaration was read in New York City on July 9, 1776.

After Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration on July 4, a handwritten copy was sent a few blocks away to the printing shop of John Dunlap. Through the night between 150 and 200 copies were made, now known as "Dunlap broadsides". Before long, the Declaration was read to audiences and reprinted in newspapers across the thirteen states. The first official public reading of the document was by John Nixon in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8; public readings also took place on that day in Trenton, New Jersey, and Easton, Pennsylvania.[110] A German translation of the Declaration was published in Philadelphia by July 9.[111]

President of Congress John Hancock sent a broadside to General George Washington, instructing him to have it proclaimed "at the Head of the Army in the way you shall think it most proper".[112] Washington had the Declaration read to his troops in New York City on July 9, with the British forces not far away. Washington and Congress hoped the Declaration would inspire the soldiers, and encourage others to join the army.[113] After hearing the Declaration, crowds in many cities tore down and destroyed signs or statues representing royalty. An equestrian statue of King George in New York City was pulled down and the lead used to make musket balls.[114]

British officials in North America sent copies of the Declaration to Great Britain.[115] It was published in British newspapers beginning in mid-August; translations appeared in European newspapers soon after.[116] The North ministry did not give an official answer to the Declaration, but instead secretly commissioned pamphleteer John Lind to publish a response, which was entitled Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress. [117] Thomas Hutchinson, the former royal governor of Massachusetts, also published a rebuttal.[118] These pamphlets challenged various aspects of the Declaration. Hutchinson argued that the American Revolution was the work of a few conspirators who wanted independence from the outset, and who had finally achieved it by inducing otherwise loyal colonists to rebel.[119] Lind's pamphlet included an anonymous attack on the concept of natural rights written by Jeremy Bentham, an argument he would repeat during the French Revolution.[120] Both pamphlets asked how slave owners in Congress could proclaim that "all men are created equal" without then freeing their own slaves.[121]

History of the documents

Although the document signed by Congress and enshrined in the National Archives is usually regarded as the Declaration of Independence, historian Julian P. Boyd, editor of Jefferson's papers, argued that the Declaration of Independence, like Magna Carta, is not a single document. The version signed by Congress is, according to Boyd, "only the most notable of several copies legitimately entitled to be designated as official texts".[122] By Boyd's count there were five "official" versions of the Declaration, in addition to unofficial drafts and copies.

Drafts and Fair Copy

Jefferson preserved a four-page draft that late in life he called the "original Rough draught".[123] Known to historians as the Rough Draft, early students of the Declaration believed that this was a draft written alone by Jefferson and then presented to the Committee of Five. Scholars now believe that the Rough Draft was not actually an "original Rough draught", but was instead a revised version completed by Jefferson after consultation with the Committee.[123] How many drafts Jefferson wrote prior to this one, and how much of the text was contributed by other committee members, is unknown. In 1947, Boyd discovered a fragment in Jefferson's handwriting that predates the Rough Draft. Known as the Composition Draft, this fragment is the earliest known version of the Declaration.[124]

The earliest known draft of the Declaration is the Composition Draft, a fragment in Jefferson's handwriting.

Jefferson showed the Rough Draft to Adams and Franklin, and perhaps other committee members,[123] who made a few more changes. Franklin, for example, may have been responsible for changing Jefferson's original phrase "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable" to "We hold these truths to be self-evident".[125] Jefferson incorporated these changes into a copy that was submitted to Congress in the name of the Committee. Jefferson kept the Rough Draft and made additional notes on it as Congress revised the text. He also made several copies of the Rough Draft without the changes made by Congress, which he sent to friends, including Richard Henry Lee and George Wythe, after July 4. At some point in the process, Adams also wrote out a copy.[123]

The copy that was submitted to Congress by the Committee on June 28 is known as the Fair Copy. Presumably, the Fair Copy was marked up by secretary Charles Thomson while Congress debated and revised the text.[126] This document was the one that Congress approved on July 4, making it what Boyd called the "official" copy of the Declaration. The Fair Copy was sent to be printed under the title "A Declaration by the Representatives of the united states of america, in General Congress assembled". The Fair Copy has been lost, and was perhaps destroyed in the printing process,[127] or destroyed during the debates in accordance with Congress's secrecy rule.[128]


The Goddard Broadside, the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the signatories.

The Declaration was first published as a broadside printed the night of July 4 by John Dunlap of Philadelphia. John Hancock's eventually famous signature was not on this document; his name appeared in type under "Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress", with Thomson listed as a witness. It is unknown exactly how many Dunlap broadsides were originally printed, but the number is estimated at about 200, of which 25 are known to survive. One broadside was pasted into Congress's journal, making it what Boyd called the "second official version" of the Declaration.[129] Boyd considered the engrossed copy to be the third official version, and the Goddard Broadside to be the fourth.

Engrossed copy

The copy of the Declaration that was signed by Congress is known as the engrossed or parchment copy. Whether first signed on July 4 or August 2, it was probably handwritten by clerk Timothy Matlack, and given the title of "The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America".[130]

Throughout the Revolutionary War, the engrossed copy was moved with the Continental Congress,[131] which relocated several times to avoid the British army. In 1789, after creation of a new government under the United States Constitution, the engrossed Declaration was transferred to the custody of the secretary of state.[131] The document was evacuated to Virginia when the British attacked Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812.[131]

National Bureau of Standards preserving the engrossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1951.

After the War of 1812, the symbolic stature of the Declaration steadily increased even as the engrossed copy was noticeably fading. In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned printer William J. Stone to create an engraving essentially identical to the engrossed copy.[131] Boyd called this copy the "fifth official version" of the Declaration. Stone's engraving was made using a wet-ink transfer process, where the surface of the document was moistened, and some of the original ink transferred to the surface of a copper plate, which was then etched so that copies could be run off the plate on a press. When Stone finished his engraving in 1823, Congress ordered 200 copies to be printed on parchment.[131] Because of poor conservation of the engrossed copy through the 19th century, Stone's engraving, rather than the original, has become the basis of most modern reproductions.[132]

From 1841 to 1876, the engrossed copy was publicly exhibited at the Patent Office building in Washington, D.C. Exposed to sunlight and variable temperature and humidity, the document faded badly. In 1876, it was sent to Independence Hall in Philadelphia for exhibit during the Centennial Exposition, which was held in honor of the Declaration's 100th anniversary, and then returned to Washington the next year.[131] In 1892, preparations were made for the engrossed copy to be exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but the poor condition of the document led to the cancellation of those plans and the removal of the document from public exhibition.[131] The document was sealed between two plates of glass and placed in storage. For nearly thirty years, it was exhibited only on rare occasions at the discretion of the secretary of state.[133]

The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives building.

In 1921, custody of the Declaration, along with the United States Constitution, was transferred from the State Department to the Library of Congress. Funds were appropriated to preserve the documents in a public exhibit that opened in 1924. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the documents were moved for safekeeping to the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox in Kentucky, where they were kept until 1944.[134]

For many years, officials at the National Archives believed that they, rather than the Library of Congress, should have custody of the Declaration and the Constitution. The transfer finally took place in 1952, and the documents, along with the Bill of Rights, are now on permanent display at the National Archives in the "Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom". Although encased in helium, by the early 1980s the documents were threatened by further deterioration. In 2001, using the latest in preservation technology, conservators treated the documents and re-encased them in encasements made of titanium and aluminum, filled with inert argon gas.[135] They were put on display again with the opening of the remodeled National Archives Rotunda in 2003.


Having served its original purpose in announcing the independence of the United States, the Declaration was initially neglected following the American Revolution.[136] Early celebrations of Independence Day, like early histories of the Revolution, largely ignored the Declaration. Although the act of declaring independence was considered important, the text announcing that act attracted little attention.[137] The Declaration was rarely mentioned during the debates about the United States Constitution, and its language was not incorporated into that document.[138] George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was more influential, and its language was echoed in state constitutions and state bills of rights more often than Jefferson's words.[139] "In none of these documents", wrote Pauline Maier, "is there any evidence whatsoever that the Declaration of Independence lived in men's minds as a classic statement of American political principles."[140]

Although some leaders of the French Revolution admired the Declaration of Independence,[141] they were more interested in the new American state constitutions.[142] The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) borrowed language from George Mason and not Jefferson's Declaration, although Jefferson was in Paris at the time and was consulted during the drafting process.[143] According to historian David Armitage, the United States Declaration of Independence did prove to be internationally influential, but not as a statement of human rights. Armitage argued that the Declaration was the first in a new genre of declarations of independence that announced the creation of new states. The Manifesto of the Province of Flanders (1790) was the first foreign derivation of the Declaration;[144] others include the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence (1811), the Liberian Declaration of Independence (1847), the declarations of secession by the Confederate States of America (1860–61), and the Vietnam Declaration of Independence (1945).[145] These declarations echoed the United States Declaration of Independence in announcing the independence of a new state, without necessarily endorsing the political philosophy of the original.[146]

Revival of interest

In the United States, interest in the Declaration was revived in the 1790s with the emergence of America's first political parties.[147] Throughout the 1780s, few Americans knew, or cared, who wrote the Declaration.[148] But in the next decade, Jeffersonian Republicans sought political advantage over their rival Federalists by promoting both the importance of the Declaration and Jefferson as its author.[149] Federalists responded by casting doubt on Jefferson's authorship or originality, and by emphasizing that independence was declared by the whole Congress, with Jefferson as just one member of the drafting committee. Federalists insisted that Congress's act of declaring independence, in which Federalist John Adams had played a major role, was more important than the document announcing that act.[150] But this view, like the Federalist Party, would fade away, and before long the act of declaring independence would become synonymous with the document.

A less partisan appreciation for the Declaration emerged in the years following the War of 1812, thanks to a growing American nationalism and a renewed interest in the history of the Revolution.[151] In 1817, Congress commissioned John Trumbull's famous painting of the signers, which was exhibited to large crowds before being installed in the Capitol.[152] The earliest commemorative printings of the Declaration also appeared at this time, offering many Americans their first view of the signed document.[153] Collective biographies of the signers were first published in the 1820s,[154] giving birth to what Garry Wills called the "cult of the signers".[155] In the years that followed, many stories about the writing and signing of the document would be published for the first time.

When interest in the Declaration was revived, the sections that were most important in 1776—the announcement of the independence of the United States and the grievances against King George—were no longer relevant. But the second paragraph, with its talk of self-evident truths and unalienable rights, had lost none of its relevance.[156] Because the Constitution and the Bill of Rights lacked sweeping statements about rights and equality, advocates of marginalized groups turned to the Declaration for support.[157] Starting in the 1820s, variations of the Declaration were issued to proclaim the rights of workers, farmers, women, and others.[158] In 1848, for example, the Seneca Falls Convention, a meeting of women's rights advocates, declared that "all men and women are created equal".[159] But the Declaration would have its most prominent influence on the debate over slavery.

Slavery and the Declaration

The contradiction between the claim that "all men are created equal" and the existence of American slavery attracted comment when the Declaration was first published. "If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature", English abolitionist Thomas Day wrote in a 1776 letter, "it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves."[160] In the 19th century, the Declaration took on a special significance for the abolitionist movement. Historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown wrote that "abolitionists tended to interpret the Declaration of Independence as a theological as well as a political document".[161] Abolitionist leaders Benjamin Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison adopted the "twin rocks" of "the Bible and the Declaration of Independence" as the basis for their philosophies. "As long as there remains a single copy of the Declaration of Independence, or of the Bible, in our land," wrote Garrison, "we will not despair."[162] For radical abolitionists like Garrison, the most important part of the Declaration was its assertion of the right of revolution: Garrison called for the destruction of the government under the Constitution, and the creation of a new state dedicated to the principles of the Declaration.[163]

The controversial question of whether to add additional slave states to the United States coincided with the growing stature of the Declaration. The first major public debate about slavery and the Declaration took place during the Missouri controversy of 1819 to 1821.[164] Antislavery Congressmen argued that the language of the Declaration indicated that the Founding Fathers of the United States had been opposed to slavery in principle, and so new slaves states should not be added to the country.[165] Proslavery Congressmen, led by Senator Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina, argued that since the Declaration was not a part of the Constitution, it had no relevance to the question.[166]

From this time forward, defenders of slavery, from John Randolph in the 1820s to John C. Calhoun in the 1840s and Stephen A. Douglas in the 1850s, found it necessary to argue that the Declaration's assertion that "all men are created equal" was false, or at least that it did not apply to black people.[167] During the debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1853, for example, Senator John Pettit of Indiana argued that "all men are created equal", rather than a "self-evident truth", was a "self-evident lie".[168] Opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, including Salmon P. Chase and Benjamin Wade, defended the Declaration and what they saw as its antislavery principles.[169]

Lincoln and the Declaration

The Declaration's relationship to slavery was taken up in 1854 by Abraham Lincoln, a little-known former Congressman who idolized the Founding Fathers.[170] Lincoln thought that the Declaration of Independence expressed the highest principles of the American Revolution, and that the Founding Fathers had tolerated slavery with the expectation that it would ultimately wither away.[171] For the United States to legitimize the expansion of slavery in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, thought Lincoln, was to repudiate the principles of the Revolution. In his October 1854 Peoria speech, Lincoln said:

Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a "sacred right of self-government." ... Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. ... Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. ... If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving.[172]

The meaning of the Declaration was a recurring topic in the famed debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. Douglas argued that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration referred to white men only. The purpose of the Declaration, he said, had simply been to justify the independence of the United States, and not to proclaim the equality of any "inferior or degraded race".[173] Lincoln, however, thought that the language of the Declaration was deliberately universal, setting a high moral standard for which the American republic should aspire. "I had thought the Declaration contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere", he said.[174] According to Pauline Maier, Douglas's interpretation was more historically accurate, but Lincoln's view ultimately prevailed. "In Lincoln's hands", wrote Maier, "the Declaration of Independence became first and foremost a living document" with "a set of goals to be realized over time".[175]

[T]here is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.
—Abraham Lincoln, 1858[176]

Like Daniel Webster, James Wilson, and Joseph Story before him, Lincoln argued that the Declaration of Independence was a founding document of the United States, and that this had important implications for interpreting the Constitution, which had been ratified more than a decade after the Declaration.[177] Although the Constitution did not use the word "equality", Lincoln believed that the Declaration's "all men are created equal" remained a part of the nation's founding principles.[178] He famously expressed this belief in the opening sentence of his 1863 Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago [i.e. in 1776] our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Lincoln's view of the Declaration as a moral guide to interpreting the Constitution became influential. "For most people now," wrote Garry Wills in 1992, "the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as a way of correcting the Constitution itself without overthrowing it."[179] Admirers of Lincoln, such as Harry V. Jaffa, praised this development. Critics of Lincoln, notably Willmoore Kendall and Mel Bradford, argued that Lincoln dangerously expanded the scope of the national government, and violated states' rights, by reading the Declaration into the Constitution.[180]

In popular culture

The adoption of the Declaration of Independence was dramatized in the 1969 Tony Award-winning musical play 1776, and the 1972 movie of the same name, as well as in the 2008 television miniseries John Adams. The engrossed copy of the Declaration is central to the 2004 Hollywood film National Treasure, in which the main character steals the document because he believes it has secret clues to a treasure hidden by some of the Founding Fathers of the United States. The Declaration figures prominently in The Probability Broach, wherein the point of divergence rests in the addition of a single word to the document, causing it to state that governments "derive their just power from the unanimous consent of the governed."


  1. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 5.
  2. ^ Lucas, "Justifying America", 85.
  3. ^ Ellis, American Creation, 55–56.
  4. ^ McPherson, Second American Revolution, 126.
  5. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 19.
  6. ^ Christie and Labaree, Empire or Independence, 31.
  7. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 162.
  8. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 200–02.
  9. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 180–82.
  10. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 241.
  11. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 224–25.
  12. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 241–42. The writings in question include Wilson's Considerations on the Authority of Parliament and Jefferson's A Summary View of the Rights of British America (both 1774), as well as Samuel Adams's 1768 Circular Letter.
  13. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 168; Ferling, Leap in the Dark, 123–24.
  14. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 13; Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 318.
  15. ^ Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 318.
  16. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 25. The text of the 1775 king's speech is online, published by the American Memory project.
  17. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 25.
  18. ^ Rakove, Beginnings of National Politics, 88–90.
  19. ^ Christie and Labaree, Empire or Independence, 270; Maier, American Scripture, 31–32.
  20. ^ Jensen, Founding, 667.
  21. ^ Rakove, Beginnings of National Politics, 89; Maier, American Scripture, 33.
  22. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 33–34.
  23. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 209; Maier, American Scripture, 25–27.
  24. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 67.
  25. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 77.
  26. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 30.
  27. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 59.
  28. ^ Jensen, Founding, 671; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 78.
  29. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 48, and Appendix A, which lists the state and local declarations.
  30. ^ Jensen, Founding, 678–79.
  31. ^ Jensen, Founding, 679; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 92–93.
  32. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 69–72, quote on 72.
  33. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 48. The modern scholarly consensus is that the best-known and earliest of the local declarations, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, allegedly adopted in May 1775 (a full year before other local declarations), is most likely inauthentic; Maier, American Scripture, 174.
  34. ^ Jensen, Founding, 682.
  35. ^ Jensen, Founding, 682.
  36. ^ Jensen, Founding, 683.
  37. ^ Jensen, Founding, 684; Maier, American Scripture, 37. For the full text of the May 10 resolve see the Journals of the Continental Congress.
  38. ^ Jensen, Founding, 684.
  39. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 159. The text of Adams's letter is online.
  40. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 37; Jensen, Founding, 684. For the full text of the May 15 preamble see the Journals of the Continental Congress.
  41. ^ Rakove, National Politics, 96; Jensen, Founding, 684; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 94.
  42. ^ Rakove, National Politics, 97; Jensen, Founding, 685.
  43. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 38.
  44. ^ Boyd, Evolution, 18; Maier, American Scripture, 63. The text of the May 15 Virginia resolution is online at Yale Law School's Avalon Project.
  45. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 41; Boyd, Evolution, 19.
  46. ^ Jensen, Founding, 689–90; Maier, American Scripture, 42.
  47. ^ Jensen, Founding, 689; Armitage, Global History, 33–34. The quote is from Jefferson's notes; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson, 1:311.
  48. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 42–43; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 106.
  49. ^ Jensen, Founding, 691–92.
  50. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 106–07; Jensen, Founding, 691.
  51. ^ Jensen, Founding, 692.
  52. ^ Jensen, Founding, 693.
  53. ^ Jensen, Founding, 694.
  54. ^ Jensen, Founding, 694–96; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 96; Maier, American Scripture, 68.
  55. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 118; Jensen, Founding, 698.
  56. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 119–20.
  57. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 97–105; Boyd, Evolution, 21.
  58. ^ Boyd, Evolution, 22.
  59. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 104.
  60. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 4.
  61. ^ Jensen, Founding, 701.
  62. ^ Wills, Inventing America, 348.
  63. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 181.
  64. ^ Jensen, Founding, 699.
  65. ^ Burnett, Continental Congress, 182; Jensen, Founding, 700.
  66. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 45.
  67. ^ Boyd, Evolution, 19.
  68. ^ Jensen, Founding, 703–04.
  69. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 160–61.
  70. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 146–50.
  71. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 9.
  72. ^ http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm033.html
  73. ^ "TO HENRY LEE - Thomas Jefferson The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826; 1905)". The Online Library of Liberty. May 8, 1825. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=808&chapter=88496&layout=html&Itemid=27. Retrieved on 2008-03-08. 
  74. ^ Malone, Jefferson the Virginian, 221; Maier, American Scripture, 125–26.
  75. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 126–28.
  76. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 53–57.
  77. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 27.
  78. ^ A brief, online overview of the classical liberalism vs. republicanism debate is Alec Ewald, "The American Republic: 1760-1870" (2004).
  79. ^ Wills, Inventing America, especially chs. 11–13. Wills concludes (p. 315) that "the air of enlightened America was full of Hutcheson's politics, not Locke's."
  80. ^ Hamowy, "Jefferson and the Scottish Enlightenment", argues that Wills gets much wrong (p. 523), that the Declaration seems to be influenced by Hutcheson because Hutcheson was, like Jefferson, influenced by Locke (pp. 508–09), and that Jefferson often wrote of Locke's influence, but never mentioned Hutcheson in any of his writings (p. 514). See also Kenneth S. Lynn, "Falsifying Jefferson," Commentary 66 (Oct. 1978), 66–71.
  81. ^ Maier found no evidence that the Dutch Act of Abjuration served as a model for the Declaration and considers the argument "unpersuasive" (American Scripture, 264). Armitage discounts the influence of the Scottish and Dutch acts, and writes that neither was called "declarations of independence" until fairly recently (Global History, 42–44). For the argument in favor of the influence of the Dutch act, see Stephen E. Lucas, "The 'Plakkaat van Verlatinge': A Neglected Model for the American Declaration of Independence", in Rosemarijn Hofte and Johanna C. Kardux, eds., Connecting Cultures: The Netherlands in Five Centuries of Transatlantic Exchange (Amsterdam, 1994), 189–207.
  82. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 242–43.
  83. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 246; Burnett, Continental Congress, 192.
  84. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 299–302; Burnett, Continental Congress, 192.
  85. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 302.
  86. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 243–45.
  87. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 204, 208.
  88. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 204.
  89. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 245–46.
  90. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 208–19; Wills, Inventing America, 341.
  91. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 150; Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 242. Boyd (Papers of Jefferson, 1:306–08) believed that, despite historical consensus to the contrary, an informal signing on July 4, followed by a formal signing on August 2, was at least "plausible". Wills (Inventing America, 342–43) called Boyd's reasoning "farfetched", arguing that a July 4 signing "makes no sense".
  92. ^ Ritz, "Authentication", 179.
  93. ^ Ritz, "Authentication", 182.
  94. ^ Ritz, "Authentication", 198–200.
  95. ^ Ritz, "Authentication", 190–200.
  96. ^ Ritz, "Authentication", 194.
  97. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 208–19.
  98. ^ Friedenwald (Interpretation and Analysis, 143) says that 45 delegates can be confirmed present on July 4, and that another four might have been.
  99. ^ Friedenwald (Interpretation, 149) gives the number of non-signers as seven, not counting Dickinson, who absented himself for the final votes.
  100. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 525–26.
  101. ^ Hazelton, Declaration History, 209.
  102. ^ Merriam-Webster online; Dictionary.com.
  103. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 90.
  104. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 148.
  105. ^ Friedenwald (Interpretation, 149) lists seven men; he does not include Charles Carroll of Carrollton, but although Carroll had been working as an emissary for Congress, he did not become an official member of the Maryland delegation until July 4, and did not take his seat as a delegate until July 18; Hazelton, Declaration History, 529, 587.
  106. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 150.
  107. ^ Warren, "Fourth of July Myths", 247; Hazelton, Declaration History, 284; Friedenwald, Interpretation, 137, where the date is misprinted as January 8, but correct on page 150.
  108. ^ Friedenwald, Interpretation, 137.
  109. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 91.
  110. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 156.
  111. ^ Armitage, Global History, 72.
  112. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 155.
  113. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 156.
  114. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 156–57.
  115. ^ Armitage, Global History, 73.
  116. ^ Armitage, Global History, 70.
  117. ^ Armitage, Global History, 75.
  118. ^ Armitage, Global History, 74.
  119. ^ Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 155–56.
  120. ^ Armitage, Global History, 79–80.
  121. ^ Armitage, Global History, 76–77.
  122. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 439.
  123. ^ a b c d Boyd, "Lost Original", 446.
  124. ^ Boyd, Papers of Jefferson, 1:421. For more on the Composition Draft, see "Drafting the Documents" from the Library of Congress.
  125. ^ Becker, Declaration of Independence, 142 note 1. Boyd (Papers of Jefferson, 1:427–28) casts doubt on Becker's belief that the change was made by Franklin.
  126. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 449.
  127. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 448–50. Boyd argued that if a document was signed on July 4--which he thought unlikely--it would have been the Fair Copy, and probably would have been signed only by Hancock and Thomson.
  128. ^ Ritz, "From the Here", speculates that the Fair Copy was immediately sent to the printer so that copies could be made for each member of Congress to consult during the debate. All of these copies were then destroyed, theorizes Ritz, to preserve secrecy.
  129. ^ Boyd, "Lost Original", 452.
  130. ^ The engrossed copy of the Declaration renders the "u" in United States in small case, i.e. "united States", one of several variations in capitalization and punctuation that historians Boyd and Becker believed to be of no significance; Boyd, Evolution, 25–26. In his notes and Rough Draft, Jefferson capitalized variously as "United states" (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson, 1:315) and "United States" (ibid., 1:427).
  131. ^ a b c d e f g Gustafson, "Travels of the Charters of Freedom".
  132. ^ National Archives.
  133. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 257.
  134. ^ Malone, Story of the Declaration, 263.
  135. ^ National Archives Press Release
  136. ^ Armitage, Global History, 87–88; Maier, American Scripture, 162, 168–69.
  137. ^ McDonald, "Jefferson's Reputation", 178–79; Maier, American Scripture, 160.
  138. ^ Armitage, Global History, 92.
  139. ^ Armitage, Global History, 90; Maier, American Scripture, 165–67.
  140. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 167.
  141. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 167.
  142. ^ Armitage, Global History, 82.
  143. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 166–68.
  144. ^ Armitage, Global History, 113.
  145. ^ Armitage, Global History, 120–35.
  146. ^ Armitage, Global History, 104, 113.
  147. ^ McDonald, "Jefferson's Reputation", 172.
  148. ^ McDonald, "Jefferson's Reputation", 172, 179.
  149. ^ McDonald, "Jefferson's Reputation", 179; Maier, American Scripture, 168–71.
  150. ^ McDonald, "Jefferson's Reputation", 180–84; Maier, American Scripture, 171.
  151. ^ Detweiler, "Changing Reputation", 571–72; Maier, American Scripture, 175–78.
  152. ^ Detweiler, "Changing Reputation", 572; Maier, American Scripture, 175.
  153. ^ Detweiler, "Changing Reputation", 572; Maier, American Scripture, 175–76; Wills, Inventing America, 324. See also John C. Fitzpatrick, Spirit of the Revolution (Boston 1924).
  154. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 176.
  155. ^ Wills, Inventing America, 90.
  156. ^ Armitage, Global History, 93.
  157. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 196–97.
  158. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 197. See also Philip S. Foner, ed., We, the Other People: Alternative Declarations of Independence by Labor Groups, Farmers, Woman's Rights Advocates, Socialists, and Blacks, 1829–1975 (Urbana 1976).
  159. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 197; Armitage, Global History, 95.
  160. ^ Armitage, Global History, 77.
  161. ^ Wyatt-Brown, Lewis Tappan, 287.
  162. ^ Mayer, All on Fire, 53, 115.
  163. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 198–99.
  164. ^ Detweiler, "Congressional Debate", 598.
  165. ^ Detweiler, "Congressional Debate", 604.
  166. ^ Detweiler, "Congressional Debate", 605.
  167. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 199; Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 246.
  168. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 200.
  169. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 200–01.
  170. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 201–02.
  171. ^ McPherson, Second American Revolution, 126.
  172. ^ McPherson, Second American Revolution, 126–27.
  173. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 204.
  174. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 204–05.
  175. ^ Maier, American Scripture, 207.
  176. ^ Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, 100.
  177. ^ Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, 129–31.
  178. ^ Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, 145.
  179. ^ Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, 147.
  180. ^ Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, 39, 145–46. See also Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the house divided (1959) and A new birth of freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the coming of the Civil War (2000); Willmoore Kendall and George W. Carey, The basic symbols of the American political tradition (1970); and M.E. Bradford, "The Heresy of Equality: A Reply to Harry Jaffa" (1976), reprinted in A better guide than reason (1979) and Modern Age, the first twenty-five years (1988).


  • Armitage, David. The Declaration Of Independence: A Global History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-674-02282-9.
  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Enlarged edition. Originally published 1967. Harvard University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-674-44302-0.
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  • Boyd, Julian P., ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1. Princeton University Press, 1950.
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  • Burnett, Edward Cody. The Continental Congress. New York: Norton, 1941.
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  • Detweiler, Philip F. "Congressional Debate on Slavery and the Declaration of Independence, 1819–1821," American Historical Review 63 (April 1958): 598–616.
  • Detweiler, Philip F. "The Changing Reputation of the Declaration of Independence: The First Fifty Years." William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 19 (1962): 557–74.
  • Dumbauld, Edward. The Declaration of Independence And What It Means Today. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.
  • Ellis, Joseph. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Knopf, 2007. ISBN 9780307263698.
  • Ferling, John E. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0195159241.
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  • Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the Virginian. Volume 1 of Jefferson and His Time. Boston: Little Brown, 1948.
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  • Warren, Charles. "Fourth of July Myths." The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 2, no. 3 (July 1945): 238–72.
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  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Lewis Tappan and the Evangelical War Against Slavery. Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969. ISBN 829501460.

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