Before the Declaration of Independence, the American colonists were subjects under British rule. On July 4, 1776, the Constitutional Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence as a formal statement that they were a people asserting the right to choose their own government.
Before this signing, war was already underway between the American colonists and the British soldiers. Since 1775 the Americans were fighting for their rights under the British crown. But by the following summer, the movement for independence had grown, and the fledgling Continental Congress had to make a decision.
A committee of men who would come to be known as Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, set out to write the formal statement of the colonies’ desires and intentions. Largely written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, a date that has continued to be celebrated as the United States of America’s birthday.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence didn’t just happen; it was not an easy road to get to this radical moment. The initial battles and skirmishes of the Revolutionary War were attempts to establish the colonists’ rights in the eyes of the crown. However, King George III responded with a massive show of force and ordered great forces of the royal army and navy to the colonies. By early 1776, colonists were beginning to abandon hope of reconciling with Britain. Thomas Paine strengthened the cause with his publication of “Common Sense,” in which he argued that independence was a “natural right.” With more than 150,000 copies of the pamphlet sold in just a few weeks, this document was a predecessor of the Declaration of Independence.
Over the early months of 1776, the colonies voted for independence, and on June 7, the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee called for the Continental Congress to formally vote on the matter. After heated debate, the Congress postponed a vote and appointed a committee to draft the document that would come to be known as the Declaration of Independence.
This important piece of American history contains five sections: an introduction, a preamble, two body sections containing a list of grievances against the king and a conclusion. The introduction states that seeking independence from Britain and King George had become “necessary” for the colonies.
If you went to grade school in the United States, you were probably tasked with memorizing a passage from the preamble: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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.”
While the Revolutionary War would continue for many years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, this document established the basic principles of the future United States of America.