- The United States was founded on the ideas of fairness, liberty, and equality for all. These ideas were written down in a document called the Declaration of Independence.
- The Declaration of Independence is the founding document of the United States.
- It was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776, and it tells the people that they are free from British rule.
- It tells why Congress voted unanimously to end allegiance to Great Britain on July 2nd.
Why was the Declaration of Independence written?
The Americans in the 13 colonies were British citizens, but the British parliament and king treated them in terrible ways. The American colonists tried to argue the laws that were passed by the British Parliament, but they just made things worse for themselves.
Eventually, a group of Americans decided to fight back. They wanted independence from Britain because it was unfair how they were being treated.
The colonists were being unfairly taxed to fund British wars. They were tired of feeding and housing British soldiers without compensation. Americans didn’t want to obey British laws without any representation in Parliament.
Events changed when people knew they were fighting against a king. They had been trying to make peace with the king, but now they know they need to fight against him. They now had a cause to fight for, and their hearts and hands could work together.
The Second Continental Congress
The 13 colonies wanted to talk about how England was treating them. Representatives from each colony went to the Second Continental Congress and had important discussions. Europe was called “the Continent”, that is why this congress was called like that.
Some people thought that they should take action and some said no, but finally the Committee of Five wrote a letter to tell King George III that they did not want to be British colonies anymore.
To be or not to be a colony
Here are some of the advantages of being independent of the British:
- France might help Americans with the fight.
- The soldiers captured might not be seen as spies or rebels. This would make it hard for King George III to make an example out of them and stop other colonists from fighting against him.
- Independence would unite different areas of the colonies that had been arguing with each other about what they wanted.
On the other hand, being independent had some disadvantages:
- Americans might lose friends in Britain whosupported their cause but not independence.
- If they failed, the leaders of the Revolution might be executed as traitors.
- The colonies were poorly prepared for war because they did not have weapons to fight.
The chances of winning this war were slim because Americans would be cutting themselves off from the biggest free empire in the world if they won! The colonists had a sentimental attachment to their homeland which made them nervous about leaving it behind. Nevertheless, the decision to declare independence was made.
July 4, 1776
It was really on July 2, 1776, that the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Britain. John Adams thought that this day would be a national holiday for many generations to come.
To finalize the decision, they needed to have a document explaining what happened. The Committee of Five (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson) spent time coming up with the Declaration Of Independence in draft form.
It took two days for the document to be ready. That is why the United States of America celebrates its independence on July 4th.
Thomas Jefferson was given the job of writing the Declaration of Independence by Congress. Thomas Jefferson wrote it in four days, but he didn’t finish it yet.
Here are the first words he wrote on it:
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…Thomas Jefferson
The Declaration of Independence (1776)
Jefferson made two more edits over the next two weeks. Then he gave ohn Adams and Benjamin Franklin a copy to read before they went to the next meeting with Congress.
Signing the Declaration of Independence was very dangerous. People would have been killed if they got caught doing it.
John Hancock was the first one to sign on July 4, 1776. At the time, he was also President of the Continental Congress.
Not one of the men who signed it was born in America. The other signatures were added later, and Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire last signed on November 4, 1776.
The Declaration is shared
John Dunlap was an American printer who was asked to make about 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence. Only 26 of those have survived until today.
George Washington, who was later to be the first American President, ordered that it be read before the American Army when it was first printed. The First Public reading of the Declaration was in Philadelphia’s Independence Square, on July 8, 1776.
Curious fact: The first years of the Declaration
The Declaration of Independence did not get enough respect when it was first made. The Federalists (like John Adams) and the Republicans (like Thomas Jefferson) fought all over it. But it became more popular after the Federalists disappeared from politics after 1812.
The five parts of the Declaration of Independence
The document is composed of five main divisions:
- The King George III indictment
- The British denunciation
The contents of the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence said that the king had not let the colonies have their freedom. He took away their rights and did not let them make decisions. This is why we had a revolution.
The Declaration of Independence also said that Parliament never had complete control over the colonies. The British crown had the right to enforce rules, but it did this only under a contract with the Americans. George III broke this contract many times, and so the right to revolution was invoked.
The Declaration says people should be able to have their own government. The Declaration of Independence has some phrases that are still used today. One is “All men are created equal”. This means we all have rights, like life and freedom. Another phrase is “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. This means that it was clear and easy to understand the rights people had.
Main ideas in the Declaration of Independence
- The Declaration states that the Americans are a different people than the British, and not just as members of their colony. The people are not a group, but many separate individuals.
- The government needs to know what made them want to break away from Great Britain. They need to dissolve the ties between themselves and the British government so they can be in a state of nature again with no one on top telling them what to do.
- The Founders of our country wanted to give rights that people would always have. They said that these rights are inalienable, which means you cannot lose them. These rights are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, among others.
- The Declaration also says that governments should protect the rights of citizens. If they do not, then people will try to overthrow them.
- The document states that the government should make people happy and safe. The people can change any form of government that is bad, like when Americans did against the British when they were bad.
The Declaration of Independence today
Since Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration, many groups have read it and found different things. The Declaration is important because it explains some of America’s most basic beliefs. But the Declaration doesn’t make any laws today.
If you want to see the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, you can visit the Rotunda for Charters of Freedom in Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for everybody
The Declaration of Independence has also been inspiring outside the United States. It encouraged people to fight for their independence from Spain in Latin America. It was quoted with enthusiasm during the French Revolution.
The Declaration of Independence is a great historical landmark because it contains the first assertion by a whole people of their right to choose their government.
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