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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Copies were shared the following morning. The Pennsylvania Evening Post carried the full text on its front page on July 6. Learn more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How much do you know about this key document in American history?
Surprising details about our nation’s founding document
Learn more about the history and evolution of the first 10 amendments