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Some people have a mistaken idea that the Declaration of Independence was the founding document of the United States. That it created this country or founded this country or was the document that actually created our separation from England.
As the following will show, the above is inaccurate. "The Declaration of Independence, . . . was, essentially, an explanation and justification for the action already taken. It was analogous to a judicial opinion delivered several days after the actual judgment had been rendered by a court." (See source later in the article)
After its adoption, and throughout the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the Declaration of Independence was viewed primarily as a pronouncement of separation from Great Britain and not as the sacred political document it is today.(70)
(70) Philip F. Detweiler, "The Changing Reputation of the Declaration of Independence," 564. John Bidwell, "American History in Image and Text," 265. Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (New York: Vintage Books, 1922), 226.
Source of Information:
"Cultural Impact: Nineteenth Century Evolution of the Founding Documents as Symbols": A Multitude of Amendments, Alterations and Additions
Several things were happening at basically the same period of time, here is some basic background:
While breaking away from England, Americans launched a revolution of another sort.
by Jack N. Rakove
The Constitution is more than the four parchment pages that repose in the National Archives. That document is only the skeleton for a much larger body of institutions, customs and other documents (such as those reprinted in this issue) that form the American constitutional tradition. As the following article shows; a distinctively American constitutional tradition began when the colonies first started to consider themselves independent states.
Each crisis that followed the Stamp Act brought Britain's and the colonies' views of their rights and obligations toward each other into greater conflict. In Massachusetts in 1768, for example, the colony's General Court denied Parliament's authority to impose the Townshend duties. Britain's movement of troops into Boston that year was denounced as an occupation by a standing army. It begat the Boston Massacre in 1770. After the 1773 Tea Party, Parliament closed Boston's port, restructured the General Court, forbade town meetings without the governor's consent and decreed that Americans might be taken to England to stand trial. These actions brought on the convocation of the First Continental Congress and, eventually, the open hostilities at Lexington and Concord.
In the aftermath of these events, Americans were forced to think creatively about constitutionalism. Legal government collapsed in nearly every colony. Governors and officials acting under royal commission could hardly allow the colonial assemblies to enact laws mobilizing arms and men to defy Parliament and the King; colonists, on the other hand, had to reconsider their allegiance to a crown that made war on them. In the traditional view, government meant a contract under which subjects pledged fealty in exchange for the King's protection. Many Americans thus felt they were now absolved of any obligation to George III.
These colonists concluded that war and the collapse of lawful government had placed them in something like the state of nature described by the philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. It was impossible simply to restore the old colonial government: The judges, councillors, and governors who ran it had resigned or fled. Government itself must be reconstituted. Americans had to replace elements of the monarchy under which they'd lived with new institutions appropriate to a republican people.
But how does one reconstitute government? Obviously a new executive must replace the old imperial governors, but the enterprise did not stop there. In the months preceding and after the Declaration of Independence, then, eleven of the thirteen colonies decided to write constitutions that would bring their citizens out of the state of nature and give them the benefits of government by consent. These constitutions were revolutionary not only because of the circumstances that gave them birth but also because the process of writing them enabled Americans to break from the constitutional tradition inherited from England. No longer did the colonists think of a constitution as a set of norms and customs descended from a distant past, or use the word to describe the current practices of a government. Americans gave the concept an entirely new meaning. As they now defined it, constitution referred to a single document that specified the nature and powers of the government, written and adopted at a specific moment in time. A later innovation would give the document revolutionary authority: It would he adopted under conditions establishing it as the supreme and fundamental law of the land, limiting government and unalterable by it.
This time line is drawn largely from the work of Richard B. Morris, in particular his Encyclopedia of American History.
"Common Sense." Thomas Paine moved many to the cause of independence with his pamphlet titled "Common Sense." In a direct, simple style, he cried out against King George III and the monarchical form of government.
The British Evacuate Boston. American General Henry Knox arrived in Boston with cannons he had moved with great difficulty from Fort Ticonderoga, New York. Americans began to entrench themselves around Boston, planning to attack the British. British General William Howe planned an attack, but eventually retreated from Boston.
Congress Authorizes the Colonies to Write Constitutions. In May, the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution authorizing the colonies to adopt new constitutions; the former colonial governments had dissolved with the outbreak of war.
Congress Declares Independence. When North Carolina and Virginia empowered their delegates to vote for American independence, Virginian Richard Henry Lee offered a resolution stating that the colonies "are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States." A committee was appointed to draft a declaration of independence, and Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write it. On July 2, Congress voted in favor of independence, and on July 4, the Declaration of Independence was approved. Copies were sent throughout the colonies to be read publicly.
Battle of Long Island. After leaving Boston, British General Howe planned to use New York as a base. The British captured Staten Island and began a military build-up on Long Island in preparation for an advance on Brooklyn. Washington succeeded in saving his army by secretly retreating onto Manhattan Island. Washington eventually retreated from Manhattan, fearing the prospect of being trapped on the island, and the British occupied New York City.
Congress Names Commissioners to Treat with Foreign Nations. Congress sent a delegation of three men to Europe -- Silas Deane, Benjamin Franklin, and Arthur Lee -- to prepare treaties of commerce and friendship, and to attempt to secure loans from foreign nations.
State and Local Declarations of Independence
North Carolina, Instructions, April 12, 1776
Rhode Island, Act Repealing another securing allegiance, May 4, 1776
Virginia, Instructions, Preamble, constitution May 15, 1776
Connecticut, Instructions, June 14, 1776
New Hampshire, Instructions, June 15, 1776
Delaware, Instructions, June 15, 1776
New Jersey, Instructions, June 22, 1776, Preamble Constitution, July 2, 1776
Pennsylvania, Instructions, Assembly June 8, 1776. Instructions Provincial, June 24, 1776
Maryland, Instructions, June 28, 1776 "A Declaration" July 6, 1776
Local areas declaring Independence
A number of counties in Virginia, Maryland, and Grand Juries in South Carolina issued such between April 22, and June 28, 1776 as did Private and Quasi-Public Groups in Pennsylvania.
In Massachusetts and New York a number of towns declared same from May 13th to June 14th 1776.
Information comes from Appendix A, American Scripture, Making a Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier, Vintage Books (July 1998) pp 217-223
Dates of State Constitutions - 1776
New Hampshire Constitution, January 5, 1776
South Carolina Constitution, April 12, 1776
Virginia Constitution, June 20, 1776
New Jersey Constitution, July 2, 1776
Connecticut Constitutional Ordinance, Aug. 1776
Maryland Constitution, August 14, 1776
Delaware Constitution, September 28, 1776
Pennsylvania Constitution, September 28, 1776
North Carolina Constitution December 18, 1776
Of the eight state constitutions written, passed and put into effect in 1776, four of them were in effect before the Continental Congress declared independence on July 2 or passed the announcement of that fact/act, July 4, 1776 (Declaration of Independence).
Obviously, those states considered themselves to be separated and independent from England before July 4, 1776. In addition, while the some states had not yet met to begin framing their first Constitutions those that had issued any kind of Instructions or declarations considered themselves separated and independent of England as well.
June 7 -- Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, receives Richard Henry Lee's resolution urging Congress to declare independence.
June 11 -- Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston appointed to a committee to draft a declaration of independence. American army retreats to Lake Champlain from Canada.
June 12 - 27 -- Jefferson, at the request of the committee, drafts a declaration, of which only a fragment exists. Jefferson's clean, or "fair" copy, the "original Rough draught," is reviewed by the committee. Both documents are in the manuscript collections of the Library of Congress.
June 28 -- A fair copy of the committee draft of the Declaration of Independence is read in Congress.
July 1 - 4 -- Congress debates and revises the Declaration of Independence.
July 2 -- Congress declares independence as the British fleet and army arrive at New York.
July 4 -- Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence in the morning of a bright, sunny, but cool Philadelphia day. John Dunlap prints the Declaration of Independence. These prints are now called "Dunlap Broadsides." Twenty-four copies are known to exist, two of which are in the Library of Congress. One of these was Washington's personal copy.
July 5 -- John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, dispatches the first of Dunlap's broadsides of the Declaration of Independence to the legislatures of New Jersey and Delaware.
July 6 -- Pennsylvania Evening Post of July 6 prints the first newspaper rendition of the Declaration of Independence.
July 8 -- The first public reading of the Declaration is in Philadelphia.
July 9 -- Washington orders that the Declaration of Independence be read before the American army in New York -- from his personal copy of the "Dunlap Broadside."
July 19 -- Congress orders the Declaration of Independence engrossed (officially inscribed) and signed by members.
August 2 -- Delegates begin to sign engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence. A large British reinforcement arrives at New York after being repelled at Charleston, S.C.
Source of Information:
Chronology of Events, Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents.
Some Summation and Some Additional Information
But first, a brief word about the actual revolution that was the particular subject of the Declaration will place that document in its historical, political, and military setting. The Declaration of Independence, as we all know, was approved on July 4, 1776, but the struggle for independence began well before that iconic date and was to continue for some time thereafter. Historians disagree as to the specific event that marked the beginning of our revolution, since there was no formal declaration of war or any other specific signpost on the long road to separation. Some go back as far as the Boston Massacre of 1770, while others point to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Most focus on the first actual battle between British soldiers and American patriots, at Lexington and Concord in 1775, where "the shot heard round the world" was fired. The reality is that, as with most complex historical epics, there was no singular event that marked its commencement. The American Revolution was an ongoing process, as the British would surely have argued had they won the war and placed our revolutionaries-from Samuel Adams to James Madison-in the dock for treason.
Among the most prominent defendants would have been those courageous men who evaded British arrest and made it to Philadelphia to attend the First and Second Continental Congresses, in 1775 and 1776. The actual resolution by which the Continental Congress officially voted to separate from Great Britain-the primary overt act of treason-was submitted on June 7, 1776, by Richard Henry Lee (hardly a household name) and was approved on July 2, 1776 (hardly a memorable date). It was an eminently forgettable bare-bones resolution that simply affirmed what everyone already knew to be the fact: that, as Thomas Paine had correctly observed, the period of debate was over and the time had come to declare that "these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free 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."
The Declaration of Independence, approved two days later, was, essentially, an explanation and justification for the action already taken. It was analogous to a judicial opinion delivered several days after the actual judgment had been rendered by a court.
The Continental Congress decided on this bifurcated approach in early June 1776, when, following the introduction of Lee's resolution, it appointed a committee to "quot;prepare a declaration to the effect of the said first resolution."
Source of Information:
America Declares Independence, Alan Dershowitz, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (2003) pp. 4-5
[Excerpts from -- Emphasis Added]
4th of July
Making Sense of The 4th of July (part 1)
By Pauline Maier, Jul 2, 2003, 12:25 PST
Reprinted from American Heritage, August 7, 1997.)
According to notes kept by Thomas Jefferson, the Second Continental Congress did not discuss the resolution on independence when it was first proposed by Virginia's Richard Henry Lee, on Friday, June 7, 1776, because it was "obliged to attend at that time to some other business." However, on the eighth, Congress resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole and "passed that day & Monday the 10th in debating on the subject." By then all contenders admitted that it had become impossible for the colonies ever again to be united with Britain. The issue was one of timing.
Congress decided to give the laggard colonies time and so delayed its decision for three weeks. But it also appointed a Committee of Five to draft a declaration of independence so that such a document could be issued quickly once Lee's motion passed. The committee's members included Jefferson, Livingston, John Adams, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Pennsylvania's Benjamin Franklin. The drafting committee met, decided what the declaration should say and how it would be organized, then asked Jefferson to prepare a draft.
Even so, when the Committee of the Whole again took up Lee's resolution, on July 1, only nine colonies voted in favor (the four New England states, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia). South Carolina and Pennsylvania opposed the proposition, Delaware's two delegates split, and New York's abstained because their twelvemonth-old instructions precluded them from approving anything that impeded reconciliation with the mother country. Edward Rutledge now asked that Congress put off its decision until the next day, since he thought that the South Carolina delegation would then vote in favor "for the sake of unanimity." When Congress took its final tally on July 2, the nine affirmative votes of the day before had grown to twelve: Not only South Carolina voted in favor, but so did Delaware-the arrival of Caesar Rodney broke the tie in that delegation's vote-and Pennsylvania. Only New York held out. Then on July 9 it, too, allowed its delegates to add their approval to that of delegates from the other twelve colonies, lamenting still the "cruel necessity" that made independence "unavoidable."
Once independence had been adopted, Congress again formed itself into a Committee of the Whole. It then spent the better part of two days editing the draft declaration submitted by its Committee of Five, rewriting or chopping off large sections of text. Finally, on July 4, Congress approved the revised Declaration and ordered it to be printed and sent to the several states and to the commanding officers of the Continental Army.. .
Not until four days later did a committee of Congress-not Congress itself-get around to sending a copy of the Declaration to its emissary in Paris, Silas Deane, with orders to present it to the court of France and send copies to "the other Courts of Europe." Unfortunately the original letter was lost, and the next failed to reach Deane until November, when news of American independence had circulated for months. To make matters worse, it arrived with only a brief note from the committee and in an envelope that lacked a seal, an unfortunately slipshod way, complained Deane, to announce the arrival of the United States among the powers of the earth to "old and powerfull states." Despite the Declaration's reference to the "opinions of mankind," it was obviously meant first and foremost for a home audience.
As copies of the Declaration spread through the states and were publicly read at town meetings, religious services, court days, or wherever else people assembled, Americans marked the occasion with appropriate rituals. They lit great bonfires, "illuminated" their windows with candles, fired guns, rang bells, tore down and destroyed the symbols of monarchy on public buildings, churches, or tavern signs, and "fixed up" on the walls of their homes broadside or newspaper copies of the Declaration of Independence.
But what exactly were they celebrating? The news, not the vehicle that brought it; independence and the assumption of self-government, not the document that announced Congress's decision to break with Britain. Considering how revered a position the Declaration of Independence later won in the minds and hearts of the people, Americans' disregard for it in the first years of the new nation verges on the unbelievable.. .
The adoption of independence was, however, from the beginning confused with its declaration. Differences in the meaning of the word declare contribute to the confusion. Before the Declaration of Independence was issued -- while, in fact, Congress was still editing Jefferson's draft -- Pennsylvania newspapers announced that on July 2 the Continental Congress had "declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States," by which it meant simply that it had officially accepted that status. Newspapers in other colonies repeated the story. In later years the "Anniversary of the United States of America" came to be celebrated on the date Congress had approved the Declaration of Independence. That began, it seems, by accident. In 1777 no member of Congress thought of marking the anniversary of independence at all until July 3, when it was too late to honor July 2. As a result, the celebration took place on the Fourth, and that became the tradition. At least one delegate spoke of "celebrating the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence," but over the next few years references to the anniversary of independence and of the Declaration seem to have been virtually interchangeable.
Accounts of the events at Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, say quite a bit about the music played by a band of Hessian soldiers who had been captured at the Battle of Trenton the previous December, and the "splended illumination" of houses, but little about the Declaration. Thereafter, in the late 1770s and 1780s, the Fourth of July was not regularly celebrated; indeed, the holiday seems to have declined in popularity once the Revolutionary War ended. When it was remembered, however, festivities seldom, if ever-to judge by newspaper accounts-involved a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. It was as if that document had done its work in carrying news of independence to the people, and it neither needed nor deserved further commemoration. . .
Official Records, and Other Sources for May - July 1776 Regarding Separation
The clearest call for independence up to the summer of 1776 came in Philadelphia on June 7. On that date in session in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), the Continental Congress heard Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read his resolution beginning: "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."
. . . Thomas Paine's Common Sense, published in January 1776, was sold by the thousands. By the middle of May 1776, eight colonies had decided that they would support independence. On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention passed a resolution that "the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states."
May 27, 1776
On 27 May, Congress received the Virginia resolution and the movement toward independence quickened. On 7 June, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented to Congress a motion,
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.(3)
Although the motion was seconded by Massachusetts delegate John Adams, further debate was postponed until the following day.
Friday, June 7, 1776
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Certain resolutions respecting independency being moved and seconded,
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.
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.2
[Note 2: 2 This resolution, in the writing of Richard Henry Lee, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 23, folio 11. It has the following endorsement in three writings: "Resolved that it is the Opinion of this Com. that the first Resolution [Benjamin Harrison] be postponed to this day three weeks, and that in the mean time [Charles Thomson], least any time shd be lost in case the Congress agree to this resolution [Robert R. Livingston], a committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration to the effect of the said first resolution [Charles Thomson]." The postponement was made to give an opportunity to the Delegates from those Colonies which had not as yet given authority to adopt this decisive measure, to consult their constituents. The motion was seconded by John Adams.]
Resolved, That the consideration of them be referred till to morrow morning; and, that the members be enjoined to attend punctually at 10 o'Clock, in order to take the same into consideration.
The several matters to this day referred, being postponed,
Adjourned to 10 o'Clock to Morrow.
June 7, 1776
In Congress, Friday June 7, 1776. The delegates from Virginia moved in obedience to instructions from their constituents that the Congress should declare that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free & independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them & the state of Great Britain is & ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.
It appearing in the course of these debates that the colonies of N York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina were not yet matured for falling from the parent stem, but that they were fast advancing to that state, it was thought most prudent to wait a while for them, and to postpone the final decision to July 1, but that this might occasion as little delay as possible a committee was appointed to prepare a declaration of independence.
Thomas Jefferson's account.
It was in keeping with these instructions that Richard Henry Lee, on June 7, 1776, presented his resolution. There were still some delegates, however, including those bound by earlier instructions, who wished to pursue the path of reconciliation with Britain. On June 11 consideration of the Lee Resolution was postponed by a vote of seven colonies to five, with New York abstaining. Congress then recessed for 3 weeks. The tone of the debate indicated that at the end of that time the Lee Resolution would be adopted. Before Congress recessed, therefore, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies' case for independence.
Saturday, June 8, 1776
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
The Congress took into consideration the resolutions moved yesterday:
Resolved, That they be referred to a committee of the whole [Congress.] Whereupon,
The Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole to take into consideration the resolutions referred to them; and, after some time spent thereon, the president resumed the chair, and Mr. [Benjamin] Harrison reported, that the committee have taken into consideration the matter to them referred, but not having come to any resolution thereon, desired leave to sit again on Monday next.
Resolved, That this Congress will, on Monday next, at 10 o'Clock, resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the resolutions referred to them.
On 8 and 10 June, the moderates expressed their reluctance to declare independence and secured a postponement of Congress for three weeks by a vote of seven to five. It was apparent to the delegates that Lee's resolution would ultimately pass, so Congress appointed a Committee of Five to prepare a declaration.
Monday, JUNE 10, 1776
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Agreeable to order, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the resolutions to them referred; and, after some time spent thereon, the president resumed the chair, and Mr. [Benjamin] Harrison reported, that the committee have had under consideration the resolutions to them referred, and have come to a resolution, which he read.
The Congress took into consideration the report from the Committee of the whole: Whereupon,
Resolved, That the consideration of the first resolution be postponed to this day, three weeks [July 1], and in the mean while, that no time be lost, in case the Congress agree thereto, that a committee be appointed to prepare a
declaration to the effect of the said first resolution, which is in these words: "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 connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
Resolved, That the committee be discharged.
The several matters to this day referred, being postponed,
Adjourned to 9 o'Clock to Morrow.1
[Note 1: 1 "Congress never were so much engaged as at this time; business presses on them exceedingly. We do not rise sometimes till six or seven o'clock." William Whipple to John Langdon, 10 June, 1776.]
June 11, 1776
On June 11 consideration of the Lee Resolution was postponed by a vote of seven colonies to five, with New York abstaining. Congress then recessed for 3 weeks. The tone of the debate indicated that at the end of that time the Lee Resolution would be adopted. Before Congress recessed, therefore, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies' case for independence.
Here is the National Archive's version of the story:
On 11 June, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, were entrusted with this important task.
Monday, July 1, 1776
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
A resolution of the convention of Maryland, of the 28 June, was also laid before Congress and read, wherein it is resolved:
In Convention, 23 June 1776.
Resolved, Unanimously, That the Instructions given by the Convention December last, (and renewed by the Convention in May,) to the Deputies of this Colony in Congress, be recalled, and the Restrictions therein contained, removed; and that the Deputies of this Colony, attending in Congress, or a Majority of them or of any three or more of them, be authorized and empowered to concur with the other United Colonies, or a Majority of them, in declaring the United Colonies free and independent States; in forming such further Compact and Confederation between them; in making foreign Alliances, and in adopting such other Measures as shall be adjudged necessary for securing the Liberties of America; and this Colony will hold itself bound, by the Resolutions of a Majority of the United Colonies, in the Premises; Provided, the sole and exclusive Right of regulating the internal Government and Police of this Colony be reserved to the People thereof.
Extract from the Minutes,
The order of the day being read,
Resolved, That this Congress will resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into consideration the resolution respecting independency:
Resolved, That the Declaration be referred to said committee.
The Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, After some time, the president resumed the chair. Mr. [Benjamin] Harrison reported, that the committee have had under consideration the matters referred
to them, and have agreed to the resolution, which they ordered him to report, and desired him to move for leave to sit again.1
[Note 1: 1 A letter from the Provincial Congress of New York to the New York Delegates, dated June 11, against their authority to vote for independence, was read before the Congress in Committee of the Whole. The letter is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 67, I, folio 228.
The vote of the Maryland Convention was laid before Congress this day, "just as we were entering on the great debate; that debate took up most of the day, but it was an idle mispense of time, for nothing was said but what had been repeated and hackneyed in that room before a hundred times for six months past. In the Committee of the Whole, the question was carried in the affirmative, and reported to the House. A Colony desired it to be postponed until to morrow, when it will pass by a great majority, perhaps with almost unanimity; yet I cannot promise this, because one or two gentlemen may possibly be found who will vote point blank against the known and declared sense of their constituents." John Adams to Samuel Chase, 1 July, 1776.
"I am told that Maryland insists upon one of our delegates having in a manner promised when the point of declaring independence was in debate, that the back lands should be a fund for supporting the war. I have [heard] that a rhetorical expression to that purpose was used by a gentleman on that occasion. [But we] can balance that that account at least bye very serious question more in point, debated in Congress in 1775, when the delegates from Pennsylvania and Virginia proposed that a garrison of 400 men be raised and kept at common expense at Pittsburg to awe the Indians. It was warmly opposed from Maryland upon this ground, that it was a [scheme] of those two States merely to guard their own frontiers in which the others were not concerned, and therefore the expense must be incurred by the former. Their objections prevailed, the motion was rejected, and the two States raised the 200 men [each for] that service soon afterwards." Edmund Pendleton to James Madison, 25 September, 1780.]
The resolution agreed to by committee of the whole being read, the determination thereof was postponed, at the request of a colony, till to morrow.
Resolved, That this Congress will, to Morrow, resolve
itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the declaration respecting independence.
Adjourned to 9 o'Clock to Morrow.
July 1, 1776.
On July 1, 1776, Congress reconvened.:
On Monday, the 1st of July the house resolved itself into a committee of the whole & resumed the consideration of the original motion made by the delegates of Virginia, which being again debated through the day, was carried in the affirmative by the votes of N. Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, N. Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, N. Carolina, & Georgia. S. Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against it. Delaware having but two members present, they were divided. The delegates for New York declared they were for it themselves & were assured their constituents were for it, but that their instructions having been drawn near a twelvemonth before, when reconciliation was still the general object, they were enjoined by them to do nothing which should impede that object. They therefore thought themselves not justifiable in voting on either side, and asked leave to withdraw from the question, which was given them. The committee rose & reported their resolution to the house.
Tuesday, July 2, 1776
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
The Congress resumed the consideration of the resolution agreed to by and reported from the committee of
the whole; and the same being read, was agreed to as follows:
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 connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.1
[Note 1: 1 This report, in the writing of Charles Thomson. is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 23, folio 17.]
Agreeable to the order of the day, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole; and, after some time, the president resumed the chair. Mr. [Benjamin] Harrison reported, that the committee have had under consideration the declaration to them referred; but, not having had time to go through the same, desired leave to sit again:
Resolved, That this Congress will, to morrow, again resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the declaration on independence.
Adjourned to 9 o'Clock to Morrow.
July 2, 1776
. . . the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies, New York not voting. Immediately afterward, the Congress began to consider the Declaration. Adams and Franklin had made only a few changes before the committee submitted the document. The discussion in Congress resulted in some alterations and deletions, but the basic document remained Jefferson's.. The process of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late afternoon of July 4. Then, at last, church bells rang out over Philadelphia; the Declaration had been officially adopted
Wednesday, July 3, 1776
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Agreeable to the order of the day, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration, the Declaration; and, after some time, the president resumed the chair, and Mr. [Benjamin] Harrison reported, that the committee, not having finished, desired leave to sit again.
Resolved, That this Congress will, to morrow, resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration, the Declaration.
Adjourned to 9 o'Clock to Morrow.
July 3 1776
John Adams Letter to Abigail Adams on the Occasion of the Declaration of Independence
July 3, 1776
Yesterday the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all the other acts and things which other states may rightfully do." You will see in a few days a declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.
But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Thursday, July 4, 1776
Agreeable to the order of the day, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration, the declaration; and, after some time, the president resumed the chair. Mr. [Benjamin] Harrison reported, that the committee of the whole Congress have agreed to a Declaration, which he delivered in.
The Declaration being again read, was agreed to as follows:
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 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 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 and 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.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish 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 connexions 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 connexion 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 Honour.
The foregoing declaration was, by order of Congress, engrossed, and signed by the following members:(1)
[Note (1): 1 The text used is that of the engrossed original in the Department of State.]
* John Hancock.
* WM Whipple.
* Saml Adams.
* John Adams.
* Robt Treat Paine.
* Elbridge Gerry.
* Steph. Hopkins.
* William Ellery.
* Roger Sherman.
* Samyel Huntington.
* Wm Williams.
* Oliver Wolcott.
* Matthew Thornton.
* Wm Floyd.
* Phil Livingston.
* Frans Lewis.
* Lewis Morris.
* Richd Stockton.
* Jno Witherspoon.
* FranS Hopkinson.
* John Hart.
* Abra Clark.
* Robt Morris.
* Benjamin Rush.
* Benja Franklin.
* John Morton.
* Geo Clymer.
* Jas Smith.
* Geo. Taylor.
* James Wilson.
* Geo. Ross.
* Caesar Rodney.
* Geo Read.
* Thos M: Kean.
* Samuel Chase.
* Wm Paca.
* Thos Stone.
* Charles Carroll of Carrollton.
* George Wythe.
* Richard HenryLee.
* Th. Jefferson.
* Benja Harrison.
* Thos Nelson, Jr.
* Francis Lightfoot Lee
. * Carter Braxton.
* WM Hooper.
* Joseph Hewes.
* John Penn.
* Edward Rutledge
. * Thos Heyward, Junr.
* Thomas Lynch, Junr.
* Arthur Middleton.
* Button Gwinnett.
* Lyman Hall.
* Geo Walton.
Ordered, That the declaration be authenticated and printed.
That the committee appointed to prepare the declaration, superintend and correct the press.
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, and at the head of the army.1
[Note 1: 1 "A determined resolution of the Delegates from some of the Colonies to push the question of Independency has had a most happy effect, and after a day's debate, all the Colonies, except New York, whose Delegates are not empowered to give either an affirmative or negative voice, united in a declaration long sought for, solicited, and necessary--the Declaration of Independency." Elbridge Gerry to General Warren, 5 July, 1776.
The Declaration was printed in the Pennsylvania Evening Post, 6 July, 1776, and in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 10 July, 1776. See the Bibliographical Notes at the end of this year.]
Ordered, That Mr. [Robert] Morris and Mr. [Joseph] Hewes determine the hire of Mr. Walker's vessel, which was employed by Commodore Hopkins in the service of the continent.
A Letter from General Washington, dated New York, July 3d, was laid before Congress, and read:2
[Note 2: 2 This letter is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 152, II, folio 149. It is printed in Writings of Washington (Ford), IV, 200.]
Resolved, That Mr. [Henry] Wisner be empowered to send a man, at the public expence, to Orange county, for a sample of flint stone.
The Congress proceeded to the appointment of two commissioners for Indian affairs in the middle department; and, the ballots being taken,
Jasper Yeates and John Montgomery, Esqrs. were elected.
Resolved, That Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, Mr. J[ohn] Adams and Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson, be a committee, to
bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America.
Adjourned to 9 o'Clock to Morrow.
July 5, 1776
Although Congress had adopted the Declaration submitted by the Committee of Five, the committee's task was not yet completed. Congress had also directed that the committee supervise the printing of the adopted document. The first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were turned out from the shop of John Dunlap, official printer to the Congress. After the Declaration had been adopted, the committee took to Dunlap the manuscript document, possibly Jefferson's "fair copy" of his rough draft. On the morning of July 5, copies were dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops. Also on July 5, a copy of the printed version of the approved Declaration was inserted into the "rough journal" of the Continental Congress for July 4. The text was followed by the words "Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest. Charles Thomson, Secretary." It is not known how many copies John Dunlap printed on his busy night of July 4. There are 24 copies known to exist of what is commonly referred to as "the Dunlap broadside," 17 owned by American institutions, 2 by British institutions, and 5 by private owners. (See Appendix A.)
The Engrossed Declaration
On July 9 the action of Congress was officially approved by the New York Convention. All 13 colonies had now signified their approval. On July 19, therefore, Congress was able to order that the Declaration be "fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile [sic] of 'The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America,' and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress."
In this article there is a great deal of primary and secondary source material that makes it quite clear that the actual separation was accomplished on July 2nd with the passage of the Lee resolution. The document known as the Declaration of Independence was the rationale/reason, the explanation why they passed the resolution which was the actual separation and independence act, much like the reason/rationale dicta in a court opinion explains the holding/ruling of the court which was and is the only legal act of the court opinion.
The introduction of the Document even states this [Emphasis Added]
"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 separation."
The document, the Declaration of Independence was giving the reasons that Congress had passed the resolution of separation on July 2, 1776. the official, legal act of separation.
In addition, the Declaration of Independence had the function of, the intent, the purpose of trying to win foreign support and aid; the instructions to delegates in Philadelphia make it clear that foreign aid was the aim of the declaration.
Source of Information:
Inventing America, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, Garry Wills Vintage Books, (1979)pp. 326-27
In the midst of a war, while forming constitutions in their own provinces, men obviously felt that the treaty and the articles were more difficult projects of practical politics, and set more useful or dangerous legal precedents, than the Declaration itself. The latter was not a legislative instrument. ITS ISSUANCE WAS A PROPAGANDA ADJUNCT TO THE ACT OF DECLARING INDEPENDENCE ON JULY 2- and that act in turn, was just the necessary step toward the two projects men were principally wrestling with.
The Declaration had a modest objective; yet it failed to accomplish even that small object. It was an explanation, addressed to a candid world, of what had happened. It was a propaganda overture, addressed primarily to France, which the treaty was meant to follow. But we have seen that the Declaration was not read much, nor studied at all, in France. The Declaration had a loftier destiny ahead of it -- but an accidental one, and one still far down the road as men busied themselves with laws and armies in the critical autumn months of 1776.
Source of Information:
Inventing America, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, Garry Wills Vintage Books, (1979) pp. 332-33. [Emphasis added]