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 [George III] 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.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren.
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 the 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.
In response to the Stamp Act, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed resolutions against the taxation without representation represented by the Act. The Massachusetts House of Representatives called for all of the colonies to assemble a general congress to discuss their common problems and take common action. Nine colonies met in New York in October, 1765 in what is now called the Stamp Act Congress. While professing their allegience to the British crown, the colonies issued a series resolutions which, among other things, condemned the Stamp Act, declared their rights as British citizens and protested the institution of laws without their representation. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 but almost simultaneously passed the Declaratory Act and later passed other taxing acts without the representation of the colonies.
The Massachusetts assembly, in 1768, sent a letter to the legislatures of the other colonies calling for them to consider their common plight. The royal governor suspended the legislature and the other royal governors did the same when their colonies approved the circular letter sent out by the Massachusetts assembly. With the continued 'iron fist' policies of Parliament and an increased number of British troops in the colonies, acts of civil disobedience appeared including the 'Boston Massacre' of 1770 and the 'Boston Tea Party' in 1774. Early in 1774 Parliament passed another series of laws and further increased the number of British troops in an attempt to control the colonies.
In the spring of 1774 the Massachusetts assembly, led by Samual Adams, and with the support of Virginia, called for a Continental Congress of the colonies and appointed its own delagates. Other colonies followed suit during summer and Congress first met in New York in September, 1774 and passed resolutions that restated and expanded the views expressed by the Stamp Act Congress. Congress composed two addresses of the American grievances and request for redress - one to King George and one to the British people.
When Congress adjourned, it planned to meet a second time in May of 1775, if need be. However, in March, 1775, Patrick Henry made his famous "...give me liberty or give me death." speech to a Virginia constitutional convention. Then, in April, a British force marching to Lexington, Massachusetts to seize some military supplies stored there met a group of American militiamen on the green in Lexington. Seeing that they couldn't resist the larger British force, the American militiamen were dispersing when a shot (unknown by whom) was fired. This 'shot heard around the world' caused militiamen to pour in from the surrounding area. The firing continued all day and the militiamen harassed the British as they withdrew to Boston.
In May, 1775, shortly after the 'Lexington and Concord' clash, the Second Continental Congress, meeting with a conciliatory attitude toward Parliament, again resolved to try to obtain consessions from it. At the same time they prepared for the worst by: organizing a regular militia in New England and appointing George Washington as commander of the Massachusetts forces; voting to raise funds and supplies for armed conflict, if it came; and to seek support of other countries by opening diplomatic relations. King George's response was to declare the revolutionary leaders as "rebels" and to order British military and civil agents to suppress the revolt. The Revolutionary War was in full course.
Beginning in April, various colonies authorized their delegates to unite for independence with the others. In May, the Virginia delegates received specific instructions from home to propose and support independence. Meeting in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776, the motion for independence was made by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia on June 7, 1776 and was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts. A committee, led by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, was appointed to draw up a formal declaration of independence, but cautious heads prevailed, initially, and no vote was taken until much discussion took place. Congress, finally yeilding to popular demand, voted on the Lee-Adams resolution and approved it almost unanimously (12 yeas) on July 2, 1776, the actual date of the act of independence.
Meanwhile, Jefferson's committee submitted their declaration document on June 28 and Congress made a number of changes (which Jefferson called "deplorable") including deleting 480 words, leaving 1337. Among the deletions was an arrainment of the King and British people for fostering the slave trade. (While he did own slaves, Jefferson called the slave trade "an execrable commerce".) The modified Declaration of Independence, explaining the act of independence, was approved in the evening of July 4, 1776.
The signers were a marvelously diverse group of men. Far from all being lawyers or judges, there were at least 9 farmers, 10 merchants, 2 physicians, an ironmaster, a printer, a teacher, a clergyman and a soldier. 8 signers were not American-born. Benjamin Franklin, at 70, was the oldest signer. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, not yet 28, was the youngest signer. Charles Carroll, appointed a delegate from Maryland on July 4, 1776 and present in Congress as of July 18, signed on August 2. At 95 years of age, he was the last surviving signer of the Declaration when he died on November 14, 1832.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversity of the Declaration. Alienated from each other for awhile, these two men rekindled their friendship and carried on a lively correspondance in their later years. At the end of his life, it seems that Jefferson's biggest concern was living until July 4. Either sleeping or comatose those last few days, he repeatedly aroused and asked 'Is it the 4th?' As he was dying, John Adams last words were 'Thomas Jefferson still lives" not aware that he had survived Thomas Jefferson by a few hours.
The original, parchment Declaration of Independence, signed on and after August 2, 1776, was not always treated with the extreme care and respect that it receives today. A copy of the Magna Carta (lent by H. Ross Perot) in the National Archives, dating from the 1300's and not having had such abuse, is in much better condition than the Declaration. Having no particular home, the Declaration hung for some fifty years on a wall near a window in the US Patent Office. The direct sunlight has faded the document so much that, aside for the heading and John Hancock's signature, it is virtually unreadable.
Finally recognizing their value, the United States now takes very good care of it's founding documents. The Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and Bill of Rights are displayed in glass and bronze cases in the National Archives building in Washington, DC. The room is fairly dim and the glass is specially tinted to block sunlight. The cases are sealed and filled with inert helium gas to minimize oxidation and deterioration. Upon emergency and when the Archives building is closed, the cases are automatically lowered 20 feet into a large fire and explosion proof safe.
By the way, there is writing on the back of the original, signed Declaration of Independence. But it is not invisible, nor does it include a map, as the Disney feature film, National Treasure, suggests. The writing on the back reads
"Original Declaration of Independence
dated 4th July 1776"
and it appears on the bottom of the document, upside down. While no one knows for certain who wrote it, it is known that early in its life, the large parchment document (it measures 29¾ inches by 24½ inches) was rolled up for storage. So, it is likely that the notation was added simply as a label for the purpose of identifying the document while it was rolled..
Actual Image of The Declaration Digitally Enhanced Scan of The Declaration Part of Jefferson's Draft of The Declaration
Most common facsimile of The Declaration, from printer Wm. J. Stones engraving, 1821