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Independence (See text following) On June 7, 1776, the Second
Continental Congress, meeting at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, heard
Richard Henry Lee, delegate from Virginia, make a motion to the effect that the
United Colonies "are and of right ought to be independent states." The motion
was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts. It was discussed for four days,
and then it was agreed that a formal vote be postponed until July 1. A
committee was appointed to prepare a formal declaration. The committee
consisted of Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania),
John Adams (Massachusetts), Robert Livingston (New York), and Roger Sherman
(Connecticut). The members asked Jefferson to draft the declaration. He agreed
and worked on it from June 11 to June 28. He later said, "I turned to neither
book nor pamphlet while writing it." Franklin and Adams made a few changes.
Members of Congress made others before it was approved July 2 and formally
adopted July 4, 1776.
The Declaration falls into three main divisions. First there is a statement of
the "natural rights" of human beings. This is packed into four not very long
sentences. Next is a long list of complaints about the king and a statement or
two about the humble patience of the American colonies under such treatment;
and finally, there is the declaration that the colonies are now independent
The Declaration was proclaimed in Philadelphia July 8 and was read the next day
before Washington's troops in New York. By resolution of Congress the
Declaration of Independence was engrossed on parchment and the fifty-five
delegates affixed their signatures on August 2 and the following days.
The Declaration of Independence (text)
In Congress, July 4, 1776
THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE
THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
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 foundations 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 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
meantime, exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions
He has endeavored 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 harass 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
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 offenses:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring 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 of 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 endeavored 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
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. We have warned
them, from time to time of attempts made 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.
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.
The foregoing Declaration was, by order of Congress, engrossed, and signed by
the following members:
New Hampshire North Carolina
Josiah Bartlett William Hooper
William Whipple Joseph Hewes
Matthew Thornton John Penn
Massachusetts Bay James Smith
Samuel Adams George Taylor
John Adams James Wilson
Robert Treat Paine George Ross
Elbridge Gerry Delaware
Francis Hopkinson Caesar Rodney
John Hart George Read
Abraham Clark Thomas M'Kean
Robert Morris Samuel Chase
Benjamin Rush William Paca
Benjamin Franklin Thomas Stone
John Morton Charles Carroll,
George Clymer of Carrollton
Rhode Island Virginia
Stephen Hopkins George Wythe
William Ellery Richard Henry Lee
Connecticut South Carolina
Roger Sherman Edward Rutledge
Samuel Huntington Thomas Heyward, Jr.
William Williams Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Oliver Wolcott Arthur Middleton
New York Georgia
William Floyd Button Gwinnett
Philip Livingston Lyman Hall
Francis Lewis George Walton
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Resolved, That copies of the Declaration be sent to the several assemblies,
conventions, and committees, or councils of safety, and to the several
commanding officers of the continental troops; that it be proclaimed in each of
the United States, at the head of the army.
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