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The Declaration of Independence

(Written in 1776 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Thomas Jefferson, with changes suggested by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and other members of the Continental Congress.)


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

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 new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likelyto effect their Safety 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 Measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

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 invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations 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 constitution, 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:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries, 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, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is, at this time, transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of 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 insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured 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 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 of 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 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 to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.


The 56 delegates from the 13 colonies who signed:

John Hancock (Mass.), president of the Continental Congress, later governor of Massachusetts (1780-85, 1787-93). Hancock was the only person to sign the Declaration on July 4. It was sent out with his signature. Most of the other delegates signed on August 2.

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John Adams (Mass.), later served as the second president of the United States (1797-1801).
Samuel Adams (Mass.), later served as governor of Massachusetts (1794-97).
Josiah Bartlett (N.H.), later served as governor of New Hampshire (1790-94).
Carter Braxton (Va.), a member of the House of Burgesses and the Virginia Colonial Legislature (1761-1775) and supported the 1765 Virginia resolutions against the Stamp Act. Later he served in the Virginia Legislature from 1776 until his death in 1797.
Charles Carroll (Md.), was a member of the commission appointed by the Continental Congress to convince Canadians to join the war against Great Britain. He was one of the first U.S. senators from Maryland (1789-1792). He was the last survivor of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independenc.
Samuel Chase (Md.), later served as a justice for the U.S. Supreme Court (1796-1811).
Abraham Clark (N.J.), was elected a member of the first Congress under the federal government and served until his death.
George Clymer (Penn.), was appointed to replace Pennsylvania delegates who refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. Although not present when it was adopted, he was allowed to sign it. He was a delegate to the Federal Convention and also signed the Constitution. He was elected to the first U.S. Congress.
William Ellery (R.I.), later served as a judge in the Rhode Island Supreme Court and with Rufus King tried to have slavery abolished in the United States.
William Floyd (N.Y.), served as a member of the first Congress under the federal government, and served in the New York state's legislature and helped rewrite the N.Y. Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin (Penn.), later a member of the Federal Constitutional Convention (1787).
Elbridge Gerry (Mass.), later served as vice president of the United States (1813-1814). He died in office.
Button Gwinnett (Ga.), was also a member of the convention that framed the Georgia Constitution (1776-77). He was killed in a duel with American general Lachlan McIntosh, his rival for the command of revolutionary troops from Georgia in 1777.
Lyman Hall (Ga.), served one term as governor of Georgia.
Benjamin Harrison (Va.), served two successive terms as governor. Elected again in 1791, he died the day after he took office.
John Hart (N.J.), was hounded by the British and Hessians for signing the Declaration and his farm, timber, livestock were ravaged and he was on the run. He died in 1780.
Joseph Hewes (N.C.), headed up the naval committee and was in effect the Secretary of the Navy. He was elected to Congress and died a few days after he resigned because of his health in November 1779.
Thomas Heyward, Jr. (S.C.), served in the Continental Congress until the end of 1778. As a captain of an artillery battalion he was wounded in the defense of Charleston and taken prisoner. He served in the South Carolina Legislature from 1782-84.
William Hooper (N.C.)
Stephen Hopkins (R.I.)
Francis Hopkinson (N.J.), composer who wrote what many consider the first American opera, "The Temple of Minerva."
Samuel Huntington (Conn.)
Thomas Jefferson (Va.), later served as the third president of the United States (1801-09).
Francis Lightfoot Lee (Va.), as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, he urged resistence to Britain. He served in the Continental Congress until 1779.
Richard Henry Lee (Va.), in the Second Continental Congress introduced the resolution calling for a declaration of independence. In Letters of the Federal Farmer (1787) he urged the passage of a bill of rights.
Francis Lewis (N.Y.)
Philip Livingston (N.Y.), was one of the promoters of Kings College (now Columbia University).
Thomas Lynch, Jr. (S.C.)
Thomas McKean (Del.)
Arthur Middleton (S.C.)
Lewis Morris (N.Y.)
Robert Morris (Penn.), merchant, later raised money for George Washington's army and earned the title of "financier of the Revolution." Spent three years in a Philadelphia debtors prison after his land speculation failed.
John Morton (Penn.)
Thomas Nelson, Jr. (Va.)
William Paca (Md.), served as the chief justice of the court of appeals in admiralty cases in 1780. He later served as the governor of Maryland from 1782 to 1785.
Robert Treat Paine (Mass.)
John Penn (N.C.), served as a member of the Continental Congress from 1775 until 1780. He then became a member of the North Carolina board of war.
George Read (Del.)
Caesar Rodney (Del.), cast the third and deciding vote for Delaware's support of the Declaration.
George Ross (Penn.)
Benjamin Rush (Penn.), physician, later established the first free medical clinic in the United States.
Edward Rutledge (S.C.)
Roger Sherman (Conn.), at the Constitutional Convention (1787) introduced the Connecticut Compromise. He is the only man to have signed the Continental Association (1774), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Articles of Confederation (1777), and the Constitution (1787).
James Smith (Penn.)
Richard Stockton (N.J.)
Thomas Stone (Md.)
George Taylor (Penn.)
Matthew Thorton (N.H.), born in Ireland, settled in Londonderry, N.H. He was not a member of the Continental Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted but was allowed, by law, to sign it on Nov. 4, 1776 the day after he arrived in Philadelphia to begin the first of two term in the Congress.
George Walton (Ga.)
William Whipple (N.H.), served in the Continental Congress until 1779. He twice took leave to lead the New Hampshire militia against the British. He was appointed a brigadier general by the state legislature and led the militia to important victories in the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga.
William Williams (Conn.)
James Wilson (Penn.), later served on the U.S. Supreme Court (1789-98) as one of its first associate justices.
John Witherspoon (N.J.), was a staunch advocate of religious liberty. He served intermittently in Congress until 1782 and was a signer of the Articles of Confederation.
Oliver Wolcott (Conn.), was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress in October 1775 but had to leave Philadelphia because of an illness and his substitute William Williams signed in his stead. After he returned, he was allowed to sign, too. He served as governor of Connecticut from 1796 until he died in office in 1798.
George Wythe (Va.), drafted the protest for the Virginia House of Burgesses against the Stamp Act. He served as a member of the Federal Convention of 1787 which framed the Constitution. He was the first professor of law at the College of William and Mary and taught John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Henry Clay. One of the earliest abolitionists, he freed his slaves in his will.

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The 943-kg (2080-lb) Liberty Bell, originally cast in England in 1752, sounded on July 8, 1776, in Philadelphia at the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. It sounded again on each successive Independence Day (July 4th) until it cracked while being rung for the funeral of John Marshall, fourth chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, in 1835. The bell now rests in a glass pavilion in Philadelphia and is considered a symbol of American independence




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This page was last updated on : 07/23/2001 15:00:48

2000  Stephen R. Scherr

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