Declaration of Independence: History, Meaning, Continental Congress, and Facts
At the end of day’s sitting , the result showed that the total number of yeses stood at 12. It was a very resounding victory for the colonies. The colonies had successfully declared themselves free from British rule. Most of delegates felt a sense of joy and pride. They had just given birth to new country: a country that will be underpinned by freedom and equality. John Adams tried to describe the atmosphere in Congress in a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams. A line in the letter reads as:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America
John Adams’ July 2, 1776 letter to his wife, Abigail
From July 3 to July 4, 1776
Further deliberations went on in Congress from July 3 to the early hours of July 4. In the course of proceedings, Congress made minor changes to about one-fifth of the document. The final document was completed on 4th July, 1776. Finally, after about 11 years since Stamp Act of the British, the colonies had successfully declared the United States of America independent from the British Empire. The United States now had the power to enter into alliances and treaties, engage and trade with foreign countries. This glorious news spread like wild fire all across the American continent and even into Europe. Several copies of the Independence Declaration document, that were made at John Dunlap’s printing shop in Philadelphia, were dispatched to the all the 13 colonies and beyond.
The 5 Sections of the Final Declaration document
As stated above, the Declaration document has 5 sections: introduction; a preamble; a body (with two sections); and a conclusion. The body contains the indictment of King George III and the Denunciation of the British People.
The title of the Declaration read as: The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America
The Introduction starts by emphasizing the God-given rights of the people. It portrays this as a Natural Law that allows the people to be politically independent and not bound to any submissive ideology or institution foreign or domestic. Here is an extract from the Introduction:
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.
The Preamble justifies the revolution of the colonies. It explains that the people are totally justified to revolt against a government or a system that destroys the natural rights. It was such a profound statement to make at that time. The document clearly states that every man under the Laws of Nature was born equal and as such the colonies had unalienable rights. They were entitled to things like Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Preamble then explains how these things can be fully secured.
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.
Extract from the Preamble that explains the rights of the colonies
The Indictment section listed the circumstances where King George and the British Parliament violated the unalienable rights of their American colonies. The indictment section lends support to the Preamble. Example of some of the offenses (“repeated injuries”) committed by the King include: the King’s refusal to submit to the Laws; he prohibited governors of colonies to enact laws that were of significant importance to the colonies; he grossly disregarded the plight of large districts of people; and his dissolution of the people’s representatives on countless times because they opposed his usurpation of the rights of the people. There were a total of 27 indictments against King George III. And as a result of those indictments, the King had to be denounced immediately.
The Declaration’s Denunciation section stated that because of all the various rights usurpations and injuries committed by the King on his colonies, the people are now justified to revolt and seek a government of their own: a government that would be made of people representatives. The Denunciation also made mention of the number of times that the colonies reached out to the King but to no avail. And because the British Empire and the crown remained silent and unresponsive to the demands of the colonies, the colonies had no other option than to separate themselves from the empire.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpation, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence… We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends
Extract from the Denunciation
In the Concluding section, the Declaration document emphasized the necessity of separating from the British Crown. It stresses that the rights of the colonies cannot be bound to any foreign power. By so doing Congress absolves the allegiance the colonies owed to the British Empire. This invalidated the relationship between the united colonies and the State of Great Britain. The Declaration ends with Congress pledging its undying support for the Declaration.
…that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Likely Philosophical Sources that influenced the Declaration Document
Many of Thomas Jefferson’s ideas, and by extension that of the Continental Congress, were not entirely novel. According to Jefferson himself, the ideas of the Declaration came out of the collective consciousness and sentiments of the public. Some of the ideas were also drawn from the Constitution of Virginia. George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights also somehow influenced the Declaration. Links can also be drawn to the 1689 English Declaration of Rights that ushered Britain into a constitutional monarchy and ended King James II reign.