Declaration of Independence: History, Meaning, Continental Congress, and Facts

It was also agreed that Adams periodically consulted with Jefferson during the writing process. In one of Jefferson’s later notes, he stated that:

unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections….I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.

The historical records show that the Committee of Five had about three weeks to write up this draft and present it to Congress. Therefore, the writing was most likely done in haste. After several consultations among the 5 men, the draft was born. The draft had 5 sections: introduction; a preamble; a body (with two sections); and a conclusion.

On June 28, 1776, the Committee presented their document to Congress. It was titled “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.” It must be noted that the Committee of Five did not take any minutes of their meetings. As a result of this, there exist very little details about how the drafting of the document occurred.

The Draft Document is put before Congress

In the next couple of days, Congress collectively made some further alterations to the committee’s document. Some statements were removed and others added. For example, the assertion that slavery was imposed by the British on the colonies was removed from the document. Jefferson was not too happy about this and many other changes that Congress made to his draft. However, he was content with the fact that the central theme of the document (Liberty and Freedom) remained intact.

On July 1, 1776, the document was put before Congress that was presided over by Benjamin Harrison of Virginia. There was still slight opposition to the planned declaration of independence. John Dickinson maintained that foreign aid might get affected after the declaration. Hence, he proposed that the declaration be postponed a bit later into the future when enough support had been obtained. Then, there were the counter arguments in favor of an instantaneous declaration. This back and forth went on for some time.

Finally, the day of voting came. Although there were multiple delegates from every colony, the voting system rules allowed for a single vote from each of the colony. What this meant was that the delegates from a colony had to decide among themselves whether to vote yes or no, or to abstain.

First day of Congressional Voting

The first round results showed that South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against the independence declaration. The New York delegates decided to abstain because they did not have the legal authorization from their colonial assembly (their authorization later came on July 10, 1776). The Delaware vote was nil because the two delegates (George Read and Thomas McKean) from the colony could not come to a consensus.  George Read voted no while McKean voted yes.  The delegates from the nine remaining colonies voted yes. The resolution was now half way through. All that was left was for Congress to vote on it. However, this was not done immediately because Edward Rutledge (South Carolina) called on Congress to conduct the second voting the following day.

Second day of Congressional voting

On the second day (July 2, 1776) of delegate-level voting, South Carolina delegates all voted yes. Also, Pennsylvania was able to turn their earlier no into a yes. With regard to Delaware, the nil vote turned into a yes upon the arrival of Caesar Rodney. And as stated earlier, the New York delegates had to abstain because they still had no authorization.

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