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Declaration of Independence

The Road to Its Adoption

Official acts that colonists considered infringements upon their rights had previously led to the Stamp Act Congress (1765) and to the First Continental Congress (1774), but these were predominantly conservative assemblies that sought redress from the crown and reconciliation, not independence. The overtures of the First Continental Congress in 1774 came to nothing, discontent grew, and as the armed skirmishes at Lexington and Concord (Apr. 19, 1775) developed into the American Revolution, many members of the Second Continental Congress of Philadelphia followed the leadership of John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams in demanding independence.

The delegates from Virginia and North Carolina were in fact specifically instructed on independence and on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee called for a resolution of independence. On June 11, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman were instructed to draft such a declaration; the actual writing was entrusted to Jefferson. The first draft was revised by Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson before it was sent to Congress, where it was again changed. That final draft was adopted July 4, 1776, and Independence Day has been the chief American patriotic holiday ever since. It is interesting to note, however, that the July 4 document is merely a fuller statement justifying the resolution of independence adopted by Congress July 2, 1776.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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