On This Day

Declaration of Independence signing, Declaration of Independence trumbull, trumbull signers
The Architect of the Capitol
Adams, Sherman, Livingston, Jefferson and Franklin are shown presenting the Declaration of
Independence to the Second Continental Congress in John Trumbull’s 1819 painting “Declaration
of Independence.”

On This Day: Declaration of Independence Published

July 04, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress completed work on the Declaration of Independence. The document would be signed by 56 founding fathers a month later.

One Step Closer to Independence

In June 1776, as fighting in the Revolutionary War entered its second year, many of the delegates in the Second Continental Congress felt that it was time to declare independence from Britain. On June 7, delegate Richard Henry Lee of Virginia put before Congress the resolution of independence, also known as the Lee Resolution, which proposed declaring independence.

Four days later, the delegates decided to postpone a vote on the resolution for three weeks. They also designated five men—Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Roger Sherman of Connecticut—to compose a declaration of independence.

Jefferson, chosen by the Committee of Five to draft the document, worked in private before presenting a draft to Adams and Franklin, who made alterations. This copy, known as the “original Rough draught,” was then examined by the full Committee of Five before it was given to Congress on June 28.

According to the Library of Congress, 47 alterations, including the inclusion of three new paragraphs, were made by the committee. After the Continental Congress voted in favor of the Lee Resolution on July 2, the delegates continued to revise the document, making 39 revisions over the next two days.

The final draft was completed on the morning of July 4. “Then, at last,” writes the National Archives, “church bells rang out over Philadelphia; the Declaration had been officially adopted.” That night, the committee took the document to John Dunlap, official printer to the Congress, who made copies that were distributed to delegates the following morning.

On July 19, 10 days after New York became the last colony to approve the Lee Resolution, Congress sent the document for engrossing, “the process of preparing an official document in a large, clear hand,” explains the National Archives.

The engrossed copy was brought before Congress on Aug. 2, where John Hancock, president of Congress, became the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence. At total of 56 delegates—not all of whom were present on Aug. 2—would eventually sign the parchment.

The Signers of the Declaration of Independence

The members of the Continental Congress believed that it was important present a united front in signing the declaration, or Britain would likely prosecute each signer for treason, a crime carrying a death sentence.

The U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee writes, “Legend has it that John Hancock said, ‘Gentlemen, we must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together.’ Franklin, ever the wit, replied, ‘Yes, we must indeed all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.’”

Congress issued an order on July 19 that all delegates must sign the Declaration of Independence, but some, most notably John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, did not support the declaration and refused to sign.

The Making of a Holiday

July 4 was made a national holiday in 1870. James R. Heintze at American University has compiled a timeline of changes to the Fourth of July holiday.

Reference: Copies and Text of the Declaration

It is not known how many copies of the Declaration of Independence were made by Dunlap on the night of July 4, but there are only 24 copies are known to remain. The National Archives presents the travels and current residences of the original copies.

The Library of Congress displays excerpts of Jefferson’s originals drafts, as well as the “original Rough draught” and copies of two “Dunlap Broadsides.”

The text of the Declaration of Independence is available through the National Archive’s Our Documents site.

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