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Brief Summary of Events Leading to the American Revolution:
The Events of 1776 Leading to the Declaration of Independence
Some Notes about the Declaration of Independencd document and signers

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

By the REPRESENTATIVES of the United States of America,
In GENERAL CONGRESS Assembled

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [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.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms. Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren.

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.

The signers of the Declaration represented the new States as follows:

New Hampshire:

Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:

John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:

Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:

William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:

Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:

William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:

Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton


Brief Summary of Events Leading to the American Revolution:Top

Britain was always heavy-handed in its dealings with the American colonies. However, in the 5 years after the end of the war between England and France (1763-1767) King George III and the English Parliament passed a number of restrictive and taxation laws that made it especially clear that England reserved for itself the sole right to govern and tax the American colonies. This was stated in no uncertain terms by Parliament's Declaratory Act of 1766. These various laws: prevented Americans from buying land from the indians west of a certain line; taxed numerous transactions, manufactured and imported items; prohibited the printing of paper currency; forced Americans to help house and feed British troops; and taxed imported tea in favor of one British company. In particular, the Stamp Act of 1765 required the purchase of tax stamps for so many different articles and transactions that virtually every colonist was affected.

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.

The Events of 1776 Leading to the Declaration of IndependenceTop

As the war proceeded, hopes for reconciliation with Britain faded and more and more people dared to suggest that full independence was the appropriate course. In January, 1776, Thomas Paine published a fiery and eloquent call for independence in a pamphlet called "Common Sense". Edition after edition came out, eventually totalling more than 100,000 copies, and a revolutionary spirit swept the colonies. In May, Congress suggested that each colony appoint a government of its own as if the British mandate were already over. In actuality, this was already happening and Congress was being told to move toward breaking with England by the colonies, rather than the other way around.

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.

Some Notes About the Declaration of Independence Document and Signers:Top

Portions of some preliminary versions by Thomas Jefferson exist, but the actual document approved on July 4, 1776 does not. It was given to John Dunlap, a printer, to be printed on broadsides for distribution to the individual colonies, and the original was lost. Of Dunlap's original broadsides, 24 are in existence. One of them was attached to a page in Congress' journal. On July 18, 1776, Congress ordered the Declaration "to be fairly engrossed on parchment" and signed by all members of Congress. Most members signed on or after August 2, 1776 and not all who signed were present on July 4. John Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress, signed it in especially large script so, he said, "King George can read it without his spectacles". Early in 1777, Congress ordered that an authenticated copy of the Declaration be sent to each state and put on record there.

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 29 inches by 24 inches) was rolled up for storage. So, it is likely that the notation was added simply as a label identifying the document while it was rolled..

Actual Inage of The Declaration           Most common facsimile of The Declaration, from printer Wm. J. Stones engraving, 1821

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