Summary of the Declaration of Independence
Over 200 years later, it remains one of the more seminal political documents ever penned. The Declaration consists of three major parts. The preamble employs the enlightened reasoning of Locke, Rousseau, and Thomas Paine, to establish a philosophical justification for a split with Great Britain. The main body lists numerous grievances and examples of crimes of the King against the people of the colonies, making him “unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” This section also challenges the legitimacy of legislation enacted by Parliament and chastises the people of England for remaining “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.” In the conclusion, the climax of the document, Congress announces to the world that “the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” On the morning of July 5, Congress sent copies of the Declaration of Independence to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety, as well as to the commanders of Continental troops. The die had been cast. Ideals presented in the preamble remained to be earned on the battlefield, but the seeds of a new nation founded upon unalienable rights and the consent of the governed were sown in the Declaration of Independence.
Declaration of Independence — Quick Facts
Key facts and important details about the Declaration of Independence for kids doing research and students studying for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam.
On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention passed a resolution that “the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.”
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented to Congress a motion, “Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, 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.”
On June 11, 1776, Congress created a Committee of Five to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies’ case for independence.
The members of the Committee of Five included Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.
The Committee of Five assigned the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence to Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence between June 11 and June 28, 1776.
On Friday, June 28, 1776, the Committee of Five presented to Congress the document entitled “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States Of America in General Congress assembled.”
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved Richard Henry Lee’s proposed resolution of June 7, thereby declaring independence from Great Britain.
On July 4, 1776, after two days of debate and editing, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence submitted by the Committee of Five.
The Declaration of Independence is made up of three major parts: the preamble; the body, and the conclusion.
The preamble of the Declaration of Independence establishes a philosophical justification for a split with Britain — all men have rights, the government is established to secure those rights, if and when such government becomes a hindrance to those rights, it should be abolished – or ties to it broken.
The main body of the Declaration lists numerous grievances and examples of crimes of the King against the people of the colonies, making him “; unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
The main body also challenges the legitimacy of legislation enacted by Parliament and chastises the people of England for remaining “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.”
In the conclusion, the climax of the document, Congress announces to the world that “the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
The first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were turned out from the shop of John Dunlap, the official printer to the Congress.
The exact number of broadsides printed at John Dunlap’s shop on the evening of July 4 and the morning of July 5 is undetermined but estimated to be between one and two hundred copies.
On the morning of July 5, members of Congress sent copies to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops.
On July 5, a copy of the printed version of the approved Declaration was inserted into the “; rough journal” of the Continental Congress for July 4.
The July 5 copies included the names of only John Hancock and Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress.
There are 24 copies known to exist of what is commonly referred to as “ the Dunlap broadside,” 17 owned by American institutions, 2 by British institutions, and 5 by private owners.
On July 9, the Declaration was officially approved by the New York Convention, completing the approval of all 13 colonies.
On July 19, Congress was able to order that the Declaration be “fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile [sic] of ‘The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America’ and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.”
Timothy Matlack was probably the person that wrote — or engrossed — the text of the Declaration on the document that was signed. He is known as the “Scribe of the Declaration of Independence.”
Delegates began signing the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, after it was engrossed on parchment.
John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Other than John Hancock and Charles Thompson, whose names appeared on the original printed versions of the Declaration, the names of the other signers were kept secret until 1777 for fear of British reprisals.
On January 18, 1777, Congress ordered the second official printing of the document, including the names of all of the signers.
The original parchment version of the Declaration of Independence is held by the National Archives and Records Administration, in Washington, D.C.
Declaration of Independence: In Four Minutes
Text of the Declaration of Independence
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.
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.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish 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 usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. 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.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; 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.
Signers of the Declaration of Independence
- Roger Sherman
- Samuel Huntington
- William Williams
- Oliver Wolcott
- Caesar Rodney
- George Read
- Thomas McKean
- Button Gwinnett
- Lyman Hall
- George Walton
- Samuel Chase
- William Paca
- Thomas Stone
- Charles Carroll of Carrollton
- John Hancock
- Samuel Adams
- John Adams
- Robert Treat Paine
- Elbridge Gerry
- Josiah Bartlett
- Matthew Thornton
- William Whipple
- Richard Stockton
- John Witherspoon
- Francis Hopkinson
- John Hart
- Abraham Clark
- William Floyd
- Philip Livingston
- Francis Lewis
- Lewis Morris
- William Hooper
- Joseph Hewes
- John Penn
- Robert Morris
- Benjamin Rush
- Benjamin Franklin
- John Morton
- George Clymer
- James Smith
- George Taylor
- James Wilson
- George Ross
- Stephen Hopkins
- William Ellery
- Edward Rutledge
- Thomas Heyward, Jr.
- Thomas Lynch, Jr.
- Arthur Middleton
- George Wythe
- Richard Henry Lee
- Thomas Jefferson
- Benjamin Harrison
- Thomas Nelson, Jr.
- Francis Lightfoot Lee
- Carter Braxton