On July 2, 1776, after months of deliberation and while directing battle in the colonies and Canada, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare the “united States of America” separate and independent from Britain. On July 4, the Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration, written primarily by Thomas Jefferson. Copies were immediately printed and distributed throughout the colonies and the continental troops. On July 9, with the approval of the last colony, New York, the Declaration became the “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” On August 2, 1776, the printed Declaration was signed by most of the congressional delegates, the final signature affixed in 1781 by the New Hampshire delegate.
|IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.|
|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.||Jefferson based much of the Declaration’s text on his preamble to the Virginia constitution and on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights (composed by George Mason), both written in June 1776. Scholars still debate the relative influence on Jefferson from other documents, including Locke’s 1689 treatises on government, yet it is clear that the Enlightenment concepts of “natural law” and the “natural rights of mankind” found an early forceful expression in the 1776 declaration of the “thirteen united States of America.”|
|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.||Twenty-seven grievances are given, many in vague or overstated language for the purpose of persuasion and dramatic intensity. All relate to Britain’s increase of imperial control after the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which ended the relative autonomy long valued by the colonies.|
|He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.||Colonial laws had to be approved by the British monarch, and Parliament could ban colonial initiatives. For example, the king blocked several colonies’ attempts to tax the slave trade, and Parliament banned colonies from printing their own paper money, which colonists felt was essential to their commercial vitality.||1|
Copyright © National Humanities Center, 2010/2013. AMERICA IN CLASS®: americainclass.org/. Text presented as in original Declaration; annotations by NHC. Complete image credits at americainclass.org/sources/makingrevolution/imagecredits.htm.