On This Day

declaration of independence, declaration of independence painting, declaration of independence pine
Library of Congress/Historical Society of Pennsylvania
“Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence,” a 1776 painting by Edward Savage and/or Robert Edge Pine.

On This Day: Continental Congress Votes to Declare Independence From Britain

July 02, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 2, 1776, a day John Adams called America’s “most memorable,” the Second Continental Congress passed the Lee Resolution, severing the Colonies’ ties with Britain.

Second Continental Congress Approves Declaration of Independence

In May 1776, little over a year after the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and debated whether the American Colonies should declare independence from Britain.

On June 7, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee presented the resolution of independence, or the Lee Resolution, which proposed declaring independence, forming foreign alliances and forming a confederation.

The first part of the resolution stated, “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.”
Voting on the resolution was arranged for July 2, so that delegates could discuss the proposals with the governments of their colonies. Five members—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman—were assigned to prepare a document explaining the reasons for independence. This document, written primarily by Jefferson, would be the Declaration of Independence.

When the Congress reconvened in July, 12 of the 13 colonies voted to pass the first stipulation of the Lee Resolution, with the New York delegation—which had not received approval from the New York Convention—abstaining. Two days later, the Declaration of Independence was published.

Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail on July 3, wrote, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.”

Background: The Continental Congress

The Continental Congress, an assembly of delegates from the 13 Colonies, served as America’s de facto government from 1774 to 1789, when it was replaced by the United States Congress.

The First Continental Congress, consisting of approximately 50 delegates from 12 colonies (Georgia was absent), met for the first time in Philadelphia on Sept. 5, 1774, in response to Britain passing the Intolerable Acts. The delegates, under the leadership of Virginia’s Peyton Randolph, called for a boycott of British products and agreed to meet again in the spring.

The Second Continental Congress, with representatives from every colony, met on May 10, 1775, less than three weeks after the battles of Lexington and Concord signaled the start of the Revolutionary War.
The delegates engaged in serious debate on whether to pursue the war for independence or to seek reconciliation. On June 14, it formed the Continental Army under the command of Virginia delegate George Washington. It also printed money and negotiated with foreign countries for financial or military support.

As fighting continued, hope of reconciliation waned and support for declaring independence grew. On May 10, 1776, the Congress issued a resolution ordering Colonies to form their own governments. John Adams added a preamble to this resolution that was “[d]esigned to encourage the suppression of royal government in the colonies,” explains the Massachusetts Historical Society.

After declaring independence in July 1776, the Second Continental Congress continued to meet during the war, organizing the war effort and establishing diplomatic relations with other countries. The Second Continental Congress was replaced in 1781 by the Congress of the Confederation, following the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.

Historical Context: American Revolution

The findingDulcinea Web Guide to the American Revolution links to the most comprehensive and reliable sources on the war.

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