The fifty-four men who composed the First Continental Congress represented different interests, religions, and regions; they held conflicting opinions as to how best restore their rights. Most did not know each other; some did not like each other. With no history of successful cooperation, they struggled to overcome their differences and, without any way of knowing if the future held success or nooses for them all, they started down a long and perilous road toward independence...
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 was presented to Congress and the signing began.
We celebrate the Declaration of Independence for two reasons. It represents an official severing of ties between the original 13 colonies and the rule of Great Britain. But it also represents the core of our beliefs, the very makeup of our identity as citizens of the U.S. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, combined a rich a history of ideas and eloquently presented them to the then King of Great Britain along with a list of grievances.
At certain times, the concept of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America may seem unclear. While many citizens are very passionate about our country, there are others who cannot accept patriotism as a wholesale, no-strings-attached concept. For those who already deeply love the United States, and for those who are struggling with the idea, the Declaration of Independence can be a guidepost. It is an unassailable document that embodies what it means to be an American, and everything we hold dear.
Although written in a different time with different social norms and commonly accepted philosophies, the U.S. has made consistent strides to truly embody the words, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” This idea has emboldened us to forge our own paths as individuals and as a nation. At great risk have Americans stood up to many forms of tyranny and oppression, and however long it takes, liberty prevails. Although the times are always changing, there will never be a day when this document does not hold immense importance to the United States or its people.
- Directly quoted from the National Archives display of the Declaration of Independence