Little-Known Facts About the Declaration of Independence

They may not be so ‘self-evident’ 

The purpose of the Declaration of Independence is as clear as its name — to state why the 13 colonies had the right to break political ties with Great Britain and form their own government. But this move to independence didn’t happen overnight. Read these 16 facts about the origins of the Declaration of Independence and then test your knowledge!

1) For some colonists, the desire to separate from Britain had been brewing for years. 

Their aspirations were formally expressed by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia on June 7, 1776, when he presented a resolution to the Second Continental Congress at the State House in Philadelphia stating that the colonies “are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Lee’s call to dissolve political ties with Britain, which became known as the Lee Resolution, set the stage for the declaration. Learn more.

2) Not all members of the Continental Congress were ready to accept the Lee Resolution.

They postponed voting on it for several weeks, but in the meantime, they appointed five men to draft a document explaining why the colonies believed they had the right to form their own government. The Committee of Five consisted of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. Learn more.

3) The committee appointed John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to write the original draft of what later became known as the Declaration of Independence.

In a letter many years later, in 1822, Adams remembered that he insisted Jefferson take the lead. Why? According to Adams, Jefferson was from Virginia, one of the most important colonies; Jefferson was better liked; and Jefferson had more talent as a writer. Adams praised Jefferson’s other documents as having a “peculiar felicity of expression.” Learn more.

4) Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Creating the draft reportedly took him just a day or two. Other members of the Committee of Five made a few changes, but Jefferson remained the main author. Learn more.

5) Jefferson’s draft drew on the language and ideas of several other documents, including the Virginia Declaration of Rights and his own version of a Virginia constitution.

His opening words asserted a common idea among European Enlightenment thinkers of the time: that “all men are created equal.” The phrase was later used to advocate for women’s right to vote and civil rights for African Americans. Learn more about the interpretation of “all men” at the time.

6) A famous 1818 painting by John Trumbull depicts the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress by the Committee of Five on June 28. 

Learn more.

7) The Continental Congress formally assembled again on July 1 to consider the Lee Resolution for independence.

The next day, 12 colonies voted in favor (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). The 13th, New York, abstained at the time but declared its support for independence a week later. Learn more.

8) In a letter to his wife, John Adams shared the news that the Continental Congress had declared independence from Britain.

He wrote that the event should be forever celebrated as a national holiday with parades, games, and “Bonfires and Illuminations.” His words: “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.” Learn more.

9) For the next two days, members of the Continental Congress discussed and modified Jefferson’s draft.

They officially adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 — the day we recognize as our Independence Day. It became a federal national holiday in 1941. Learn more.

10) About 200 prints of the Declaration, called broadside editions, are believed to have been produced by printer John Dunlap on the night of July 4, 1776 (26 remain today).

Copies were shared the following morning. The Pennsylvania Evening Post carried the full text on its front page on July 6. Learn more.

11) The Declaration of Independence was first read aloud in public on July 8, 1776, by Col. John Nixon outside the State House in Philadelphia.

Bells in the city rang in celebration, but it is unlikely that the Liberty Bell (then known as the State House bell) tolled that day because the State House steeple was under repair. Learn more.

12) There is no singular authoritative copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Congress ordered the iconic parchment version most Americans and historians recognize as “the” Declaration of Independence to be created on July 19, 1776. When the document was finished, it was signed by 56 members of the Continental Congress. Learn more about the other copies.

13) John Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, on Aug. 2, 1776.

The delegates then added their signatures in the order of their states’ locations — north to south, New Hampshire to Georgia. The final signature came from Thomas McKean at least a year later. Learn more.

14) Benjamin Franklin, at 70 years old, was the oldest signer.

Two of the signers were 26 at the time: Edward Rutledge and Thomas Lynch Jr., both representing South Carolina. Born Aug. 5, 1749, Lynch was the youngest signer of the declaration. Learn more.

15) After the signing ceremony in Philadelphia, the signed parchment version of the Declaration of Independence was moved often — sometimes to protect it during war, other times to preserve or display it.

On Dec. 13, 1952, the Declaration of Independence was formally transferred to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where it has remained. Learn more.

16) Three founding fathers died on the Fourth of July.

Our fifth president, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831. And our second and third presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died within a few hours of each other on July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Learn more.

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