The Second Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. One of the delegates, Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, introduced a resolution that was passed by the Virginia Convention. Lee made his proposal on June 7, 1776. The Lee Resolution contained three separate parts. The first was a declaration freeing us from England, the second was to create alliances with foreign governments and the third was to unite the various colonies under a plan of confederation. The congress debated this resolution, with strong arguments on each side. Finally, on July 2, 1776, the delegates decided to sever ties with Great Britain. This is the date John Adams thought should be celebrated by future generations. Thomas Jefferson was selected to write the actual document, with the assistance of other members finished the document and presented it for approval on the late afternoon of July 4, 1776.
The Lee Resolution declaring independence was formally adopted on July 2nd, but it was clear to all the delegates approval would be coming. On June 10, a committee of 5 members was chosen by the Congress to draft a statement of independence for the colonies to approve. The members were Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman. Jefferson was again selected to do the actual writing.
Jefferson worked on the statement to the states from June 11 and June 28th. He wanted to include the theory developed by an English philosopher named John Locke. Locke wrote about England’s revolution in 1688. He described “man’s natural rights” to property, life and liberty. Jefferson used this as a basis for the statement to the colonies. Adams and Franklin made changes and the final document was presented to the entire Congress on July 2, 1776. This was approved after the adoption of the Lee provision on freedom. July 3rd and most of July 4th were spent working on a revision that covered all of the issues before them. On the afternoon of July 4, 1776, the final document was presented and passed by the Congress.
The Congress made copies of the declaration to be sent to each of the colonies for approval. This document was only signed by John Hancock, President of the Congress, and Charles Thompson, Secretary.
On July 19th, the congress ordered the document be written on parchment in large print and signed by all the delegates of the congress. Charles Thomson, Secretary to the Congress, chose Timothy Matlock, his assistant, to actually scribe it. The name was changed to “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America.” When the document was completed and delivered to the Congress for signature, John Hancock was first to sign as President of the Congress, on August 2nd.
The signatures were gathered by the delegates. Some delegates never did sign. Robert R. Livingston, a delegate from New York and a member of the drafting committee, never did sign. Many of the delegates had returned to their farms when the final document was prepared for signature. It was sent to the various delegates to sign. Eventually 56 delegates did sign the declaration.
This is the history behind the document that started in motion the founding of the greatest country ever to exist on this planet. We spend a lot of time reading about 2 paragraphs in this document. There are several pages of charges against the King of England that caused the action to separate. If these issues would have been addressed, maybe we would still be part of the British Crown. Enjoy your holiday.