America’s Declaration of Independence

1869 Declaration of Independence stamp
US #120 includes 42 people, including six that can be recognized under a magnifying glass!

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.  One of America’s founding documents, it explained why the 13 colonies were at war with Great Britain and that they declared themselves to be independent sovereign states no longer under British rule.

In the spring of 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft a document officially proclaiming independence from Great Britain.  The committee consisted of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson.

1875 Declaration of Independence reprint
US #130 was re-printed for the 1876 Centennial Exposition.

Jefferson, not knowing anyone in the Congress, soon became close friends with Adams, a friendship that would last the rest of their lives.  After creating a basic outline for the document, the men discussed who should write it.  They all agreed, especially Jefferson, that Adams should write it.  However, Adams convinced them to choose Jefferson, an assignment he was not thrilled about at the beginning.

1975 Independence Hall stamp
US #1622 – The declaration was signed in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Over the next 17 days, Jefferson had little time to draft the declaration, but when he worked on it, it was reportedly on a special desk of his own creation.  Jefferson had several influences that included his own draft of the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia, George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights , the English Declaration of Rights (which officially ended the reign of King James II), the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath, and the Dutch Act of Abjuration.

Several other sources have been suggested over time by historians, but many are disputed.  Jefferson recognized that he used several sources, stating in 1825, “Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”

1976 Declaration of Independence strip of 4
US #1691-94 reproduces a painting by John Trumbull.

Once completed, Jefferson presented the document to the committee, which made several changes, including Benjamin Franklin’s suggestion to replace the statement “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” with “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

1976 Declaration of Independence souvenir sheet
US #1687 reproduces a painting by John Trumbull.

On June 28, 1776, the committee presented the Congress with “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.”  The Congress then voted on the resolution of independence on July 2, a day Adams first anticipated America would celebrate.  Congress then reviewed the declaration and cut nearly one-quarter of the text, including a passage criticizing the slave trade, which Jefferson resented.

1976 Declaration of Independence Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover.
US #1691-94 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

In the document, the equal value of all people was stated, and the rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were called “unalienable,” because they could not be taken away. The bold writers called King George III “unfit to be the ruler of a free people” and accused him of obstructing “the Administration of Justice.”

1976 Declaration of Independence Fleetwood First Day Cover
US #1691-94 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

The wording was officially approved, and the document ratified on July 4.  The declaration was then distributed and read publicly.  Contrary to popular belief, the famous “official” document that’s on display at the national archives, wasn’t signed until August 2.

Click here to read the Declaration of Independence.

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7 responses to "America’s Declaration of Independence"

7 thoughts on “America’s Declaration of Independence”

  1. It’s interesting that the concept of slavery was very much an acceptable practice in the original “Declaration Of Independence”, that it’s statement against it, was removed. It shows the deep seated prejudices and racism that were very much part of the colonies. And these were learned and intelligent men. I believe many of us would very much want to see the original draft.

    Reply
  2. Jefferson wanted it left in, but the Southern States wanted it out, just as
    they kept any mention of Slavery in the Constitution basically leaving
    the question of the Legality of Slavery to the States via the 10th Amendment,
    If Slavery had been outlawed in the Constitution of 1789 there would have
    been no Nation of 13 Colonies, but two separate confederation of 7 Northern
    Colonies and 6 Southern Colonies. One with Slavery one without.

    Reply
  3. I did not know the very famous sentence “We hold these thruths…” was revised by Franklin. Considering that the initial version included “sacred” which is very subjective term, I think Franklin’s impact on interpretation of fundamental rights by following generations must have been significant. “Self-evident” is such a great choice of word. It emphasize secularity, universality and inherent nature of these rights.

    Reply
  4. Slavery was NOT a “very much an acceptable practice”. Jefferson himself, even though he had slaves to work his plantation in Virginia, was against the practice and labored over the conflicting ideas of “all men are created equal” and slavery. His original words against slavery were omitted in order to persuade the delegates from the Carolinas and Georgia to sign, as they had agreed it was to be a unanimous decision to declare independence. They viewed slavery as a necessity to their economies as it was based on agriculture and was very labor intensive in the late 18th century.
    If we taught the Declaration and Constitution in schools as well as the historical context and other explanatory writings and documents, such as the Federalist Papers and preserved letters and writings of the signers, the people of this country would be much better prepared to discuss and debate our Founding Documents and do so from a position of knowledge and understanding instead of from a position of ignorance and stupidity. And their would be a lot less liberals.

    Reply
    • How noble Jefferson struggled with slavery. Would you be comforted if you learned a thief felt conflicted after successfully stealing your retirement, Gary? Thanks for the lecture. Pompous writing like yours helps breed the very Liberals you fear.

      Reply
  5. Your comments made sense until your last “sentence.” What happened? You used the word “their” instead of “there” and the word “less” instead of “fewer.” Your last “sentence” made no sense.

    Reply

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