In June 1776,
as Thomas Jefferson composed a draft of the Declaration of
Independence from a second floor parlor of a bricklayer's
house in Philadelphia, the largest invasion force in British
military history was headed for New York Harbor. By the time
the last of the fifty-six signers had affixed their names
to the final, edited document months later, an invading force
of British soldiers had landed at Staten Island, the British
had taken New York City, and the American patriots had committed
themselves to a long and bloody struggle for liberty and independence.
The Declaration announced to the world the separation of
the thirteen colonies from Great Britain and the establishment
of the United States of America. It explained the causes of
this radical move with a long list of charges against the
King. In justifying the Revolution, it asserted a universal
truth about human rights in words that have inspired downtrodden
people through the ages and throughout the world to rise up
against their oppressors.
Jefferson was not aiming at originality. The Declaration
articulates the highest ideals of the Revolution, beliefs
in liberty, equality, and the right to self-determination.
Americans embraced a view of the world in which a person's
position was determined, not by birth, rank, or title, but
by talent, ability, and enterprise. It was a widely held view,
circulated in newspapers, pamphlets, sermons, and schoolbooks;
but it was Thomas Jefferson, the 33-year-old planter from
Virginia, who put the immortal words to it.
On July 4, 1776, Congress completed its editing of the document
that reduced the text by 25 percent ("mutilations"
is what Jefferson called it) and formally adopted the Declaration;
on July 19, Congress ordered that a formal copy of the Declaration
be prepared for members to sign; and on August 2, the final
parchment–the one presently displayed in the nearby
case–was presented to Congress and the signing began.
|Print of the Declaration
of Independence made in 1976 for the nation's 200th anniversary