Declaring Independence

Declaration of IndependenceToday in 1776, the American Continental Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration of independence.
Leading up to the War of Independence, British colonists seemed torn over the idea of separating away from Great Britain. While they believed they were being unfairly taxed, lacking actual representation in Parliament, they did not necessarily believe that they should become their own nation either. In fact, throughout the war, at least one-third of the colonists remained loyal to Great Britain. Before the Continental Congress moved toward actually declaring independence, they first attempted to reach out to Great Britain (read about earlier acts of this congress here). Despite this, the Declaration of Independence was written in the summer of 1776 and in many ways, helped to unite the colonies in a shared cause.
The committee that was put together to write this declaration included great leaders and minds such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and of course, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was only thirty-three years old at the time and was assigned to write the bulk of the declaration because he was a gifted writer, but largely because no one else thought the task important enough to do themselves. Jefferson justified the revolution by calling upon the “self-evident truths” of human equality and the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” terms we considered un-revolutionary now.
The draft was approved by the committee on June 28 and submitted to the Continental Congress. This draft included a section about the slave trade, as Jefferson and other members of the declaration committee saw the hypocrisy of slavery within this new nation. However, this paragraph became a point of contention between the northern and southern colonies and was therefore removed. This resulted in the removal of a quarter of the original text. On July 4, the Continental Congress approved this edited version.
The Declaration was immediately read aloud outside what is now Independence Hall and copies were distributed throughout the colonies. It also quickly appeared in German and French translations, later partially inspiring the French Revolution. Spain at first prevented a Spanish translation, fearing it would inspire similar revolutions in its colonies in the Americas.
Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence tied the new nation to an open-ended, democratic process where tradition would no longer rule the present and these new Americans could shape their society as they saw fit. However, as history proves, Jefferson’s lofty goals were not always met.

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About Meg G.

I am a PhD candidate studying US History. I am interested in gender, children, and religious history in the 19th-century US. I love running. I have a pretty cool husband and family. View all posts by Meg G.

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