United States Declaration of Independence

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United States Declaration of Independence
1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy
1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy
Created June–July 1776
Ratified July 4, 1776
Location Engrossed copy: National Archives
Rough draft: Library of Congress
Authors Thomas Jefferson et al. (Engrosser: Possibly Timothy Matlack)
Signers 56 delegates to the Continental Congress
Purpose To announce and explain separation from Great Britain[1]

The United States Declaration of Independence is an important document in the history of the United States of America. It was ratified on July 4, 1776. It says that the Americans were no longer under British rule. Instead, the thirteen British colonies came together to become a new country.

History[change | change source]

Before the Declaration[change | change source]

Before 1776, the United States of America was not a country. The individual states were colonies of the British Empire. They were called British Colonies. This means that the King and Parliament of Great Britain ruled the Colonies.

Effects[change | change source]

During this time, many American people were angry at Great Britain. Many Americans did not like paying taxes to Great Britain when they did not have anyone to speak for them in Parliament. The American people wanted to be treated like British citizens. When they were not treated like citizens, they no longer felt loyal towards Great Britain.

Taking action[change | change source]

Jefferson drafted the Declaration on this portable lap desk, which he designed himself

Responding to actions taken by Great Britain, including the Intolerable Acts, the different colonies formed a Continental Congress to make decisions for all of the colonies. They met in the American city of Philadelphia. During a meeting of the Second Continental Congress, on June 11, 1776, they chose five people to write a document that would become the Declaration of Independence. These people were:

The Declaration of Independence[change | change source]

What it says[change | change source]

Jefferson did most of the writing.[2][3] In the Declaration, Jefferson starts by writing about people's rights, and what the government should and should not do. This part of the Declaration is called the Preamble. He then lists specific bad things that the British government did to the colonies. He says these included putting people in jail with no reason; making taxes that were too high; and not respecting people who lived in the colonies.

The Declaration then says that because of all the things that Britain had done to the colonies, the colonies would now be free, independent states.

Agreeing on the Declaration[change | change source]

About 50 men, most of them seated, are in a large meeting room. Most are focused on the five men standing in the center of the room. The tallest of the five is laying a document on a table.
This famous painting shows the five men who wrote the Declaration showing their work to the Congress.[4]

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress argued about the Declaration and made some changes to it. After making changes, they approved the Declaration. They declared their independence from the British Empire that day, at the Pennsylvania State House.

However, the Continental Congress did not officially approve the Declaration until July 4. On that day, twelve of the thirteen groups that represented the colonies approved and ordered the Declaration to be printed. (The Province of New York did not vote.) This version of the Declaration was signed only by the President of the Congress, John Hancock.

On July 15, the New York group agreed with the rest of the colonies' groups. This meant that everyone in the Congress agreed on the Declaration.

On July 19, the Declaration's title was changed from "A Declaration of the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled" to "the unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America."

Overall, 56 men signed the Declaration. However, some people signed at different times. Many people signed a parchment paper copy of the Declaration on July 2.[5] Many of these signers were not there when the original Declaration was adopted on July 4.[5] One signer, Matthew Thornton, from the Province of New Hampshire, signed on November 4, 1776. [5]

Effects of the Declaration[change | change source]

The Declaration of Independence had many different effects.

Effects on Great Britain[change | change source]

When the King of Great Britain, King George III, and Parliament heard about the Declaration, they were angry. Great Britain and the people in America had already been fighting in a war. This war is called the American Revolution. America won the war, and in 1783 Great Britain had to recognize the independence of the new country, the United States, at the Treaty of Paris.

Effects on America[change | change source]

The people of America know that the Declaration of Independence is very important. Every year on July 4, they have a holiday called 'Independence Day'. They celebrate this holiday to remember the day that the Declaration was approved, and the day that the United States of America became a its own country. They often celebrate with parades, fireworks, and songs.

The Declaration of Independence also talks about the simple ideas that the people who started the United States believed in. It says that every person in this U.S has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It also says that the government has to listen to its own people. These things were what made America a free independent country.

Text[change | change source]

Starting text[change | change source]

The initial text says that a declaration of independence must be well-reasoned:

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.

Simple English translation[change | change source]

Basically, in Simple English, this means:

Sometimes in history, one country has to stop being connected to another country. It has to become separate and equal. This is a right that Nature and God give to every person. However, when this happens, the country should explain its reasons for separating from the other country.

The Preamble[change | change source]

The preamble of the declaration is the best-known part.

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.

Simple English translation[change | change source]

We think these truths are obvious:

  • That all men are created equal
  • That their Creator gives them rights that cannot be taken away
    • That these rights include the rights to life, liberty (freedom), and to be happy
  • That governments are created to protect these rights
  • That governments have power only if the people they are governing agree that they do
  • That whenever a government no longer protects these rights, the people it governs have a right to change or get rid of that government. They also have a right to create a new government that is more likely to protect their safety and happiness
  • That governments which have existed for a long time should not be changed for small reasons. However, if a government abuses its people over and over again, the people have the right to get rid of that government.

Present day[change | change source]

The Declaration of Independence is very old, but it still exists. The paper that Thomas Jefferson wrote on is now in the National Archives Museum near the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Becker, Declaration of Independence, 5.
  2. "Declaration of Independence - Thomas Jefferson (Library of Congress Exhibition)". loc.gov. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jeffdec.html. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  3. "Thomas Jefferson | The White House". whitehouse.gov. 2012 [last update]. http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/thomasjefferson. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  4. Wills, Inventing America, 348.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 The U.S. State Department (1911), The Declaration of Independence, 1776, pp. 10, 11.

Other websites[change | change source]

Maps, photos, and other media[change | change source]

The Signers[change | change source]