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DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
A DECLARATION BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES
OF AMERICA, IN CONGRESS1 ASSEMBLED
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.
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 a 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
1 The First Continental or General Congress met in Carpenters' Hall, Philadelphia, September 5, 1774. It consisted of forty-four delegates, representing eleven of the thirteen colonies. Later, eleven more delegates took their seats, and all of the colonies were represented except Georgia, which promised to concur with "her sister colonies" in their effort to maintain their rights as English subjects. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was elected President of the Congress. Among the distinguished men who had assembled there, were Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, John Dickinson, William Livingston, John Jay, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Roger Sherman, and the Rutledges of South Carolina.
On the 14th of October the Congress adopted a Declaration of Colonial Rights. On the 26th a Petition to the King, asking the redress of their wrongs, was drawn up.
The Second Continental Congress (at which Georgia was represented) met in Philadelphia, in the State House (Independence Hall), May 10, 1775. A second Petition to the King was adopted, and Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental army, though Congress still denied any intention of separating from Great Britain, and earnestly expressed a desire for the peaceful settlement of all difficulties.
The King's Proclamation, declaring the colonies in rebellion, and calling for volunteers to force them to submit to taxation without representation, and other unjust measures, finally convinced the delegates to Congress of the impossibility of our continuing our allegiance to the English crown.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia moved "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown 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. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and, when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, -- a right inestimable to them, and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measure.
He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the people.
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." This motion was adopted on July 2. John Adams of Massachusetts seconded the motion.
A little later a committee of five -- Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston of New York -- was appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. "From the fulness of his own mind, without consulting one single book, yet having in memory the example of the Swiss and the manifesto of the United Provinces of The Netherlands," Jefferson drew up the paper, though some alterations were made in it by the committee and by Congress.
It was adopted on the evening of July 4, 1776, and signed by John Hancock, President of Congress, and Charles Thomson, Secretary. On August 2, 1776, it was signed by the members, representing all the thirteen states.
See Bancroft's "United States" (author's last revised edition, 1884), IV, ch. 26-28, and V, ch. 1. For a printed copy of Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration with the changes made in it by the committee and by Congress see the "Madison Papers," 1, pp. 19-27, or the "Old South Leaflets," General Series, No. 3. An exact copy of the beginning of Jefferson's original manuscript draft, with his corrections, is given in Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History of America," VI, p. 260; see too, in this connection, John Adams' account of Jefferson's "Drafting the Declaration of Independence" in Adams' Works (1850), II, pp. 513-514, or in Hart's "Source Book of American History," pp. 147-149. A facsimile or exact copy of the Declaration, in manuscript, as engrossed and signed, will be found in Force's "American Archives," Series V, I, p. 1597. The original manuscript itself is preserved in the Patent Office at Washington.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
He has refused, for a long time after such dissolutions, to cause 'others to be elected, whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining, in the mean time, exposed to all the dangers of invasions from without and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for the naturalization of foreigners, refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
He has made judges dependent on his will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitutions and unacknowledged by our laws, giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;
For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;
For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;
For imposing taxes on us without our consent; 1
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;
For transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offenses;
For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries,2 so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies;
For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering, fundamentally, the forms of our governments;
For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries3 to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny already begun with circumstances of
1 This count in Jefferson's indictment of the "King of Great Britain" is generally considered to have been the chief cause of the American Revolution.
2 This refers to Canada and the Quebec Act (see § 16o, note 1).
3 This refers to the Hessians (see § 166).
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow-citizens, taken captive on the high seas, to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.
He has excited domestic insurrection among us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them, from time to time, of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity; and we have conjured them, by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They, too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
The foregoing Declaration was, by order of Congress, engrossed and signed by the following members:
NEW HAMPSHIRE RHODE ISLAND NEW YORK
MASSACHUSETTS BAY CONNECTICUT
ROBERT TREAT PAINE
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
NEW JERSEY DELAWARE
FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE
CHARLES CARROLL, of Car-
THOMAS HEYWARD, JR.
THOMAS LYNCH, JR.
RICHARD HENRY LEE
THOMAS NELSON, JR.
Resolved, That copies of the Declaration be sent to the several assemblies, conventions, and committees, or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops; that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, at the head of the army.