The Declaration of Independence has left a lasting mark on the United States of America.
On July 2, 1776 the United States came into existence through the Declaration of Independence as opposed to July 4 as most people believe. Thomas Jefferson penned the first draft of the Declaration of Independence and
presented it to Congress on July 2, 1776 – the document received approval from the Second
Continental Congress on July 4 and received authentication from President of Congress John
Hancock later that morning.
[Many events led to the creation of the Declaration of Independence. On May 10, 1775,
the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The First Continental
Congress established this meeting date at its closing a year before, and it was a fortunate coincidence that the meeting took place just weeks after the Battles of Lexington
and Concord. This Congress became the first governing body for the newborn United States. It
had the authority to perform all actions related to an active government, such as raising an army
and appointing officers.]
Preceding the Declaration John Dickinson, a prominent writer and lawyer during the pre-
Revolutionary time, wrote the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms.
Issued by the Second Continental Congress on July 6, 1775, this monumental document simply
explained the urgency for the thirteen colonies to declare independence from Britain and revolt. Dickinson’s declaration would also serve the needs of Thomas Jefferson, less than a year later, when drafting the
Declaration of Independence. Many other pamphlets, newspaper articles and various documents promoted the move
towards independence. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, provided one such example.
Full of religious imagery and allusions, Paine published this booklet on January 15, 1776 and it was widely read throughout the colonies.
Paine’s pamphlet was followed by The Halifax Resolves, in which the delegates at the Fourth
Provincial Congress of North Carolina unanimously voted that North Carolina’s delegates for the
Second Continental Congress could vote for independence. This made North Carolina the first colony to promote
independence. Held on May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention declared Virginia’s independence from
Britain because each colony had to declare it’s own independence in addition to the collective declaration. The Virginia Convention also instructed Virginia’s delegates to vote for independence.
Finally, on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee proposed a resolution for independence which
Congress debated for several weeks. During this time delegates from Maryland,
Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey did not receive authorization from their
states to vote for independence. However, advocates for independence began working to
persuade the colonial governments to support the resolution.
Thomas Jefferson was chosen to draft the document along with help from the other members of the Committee of Five, including John Adams, Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman. Jefferson received inspiration from the philosophers of the social contract and particularly from John Locke. Locke believed that all men have the right to pursue life, liberty and property. George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights furthered Jefferson’s promotion of the idea that “all men are created equal.” This would appear to be a very moral standpoint and with the religious language Jefferson utilized while drafting the document, it
might have been. However, not “all men” obtained this equal status. Only property owners were fortunate
enough to have equality in colonial America. Simultaneously, Jefferson implemented vague
language when describing the grievances the colonies held towards King George III and
Parliament. The Declaration of Independence had such a heavy influence on the development of the new nation, yet at the same time also had many conflicting issues that continue to spark conversation and debate today.
This context will discuss intellectual influences on the Declaration of Independence and will provide an annotated version of the document.