When the last dutiful & humble petition from Congress received no other Answer than declaring us Rebels, and out of the King’s protection, I from that Moment look’d forward to a Revolution & Independence, as the only means of Salvation; and will risque the last Penny of my Fortune, & the last Drop of my Blood upon the Issue.” –
George Mason, October 2, 1778
In 1763, when England’s King George III began forcing his authority over the American Colonies in an effort to make them share the cost of the Seven Year’s War England had just won against France, colonists protested, invoking their rights as free men and loyal subjects. Using the thirteenth-century English document the Magna Carta as their bases that no one is above the law, including the King, colonists began a ten year struggle to defend their rights, which eventually led to the American Revolution.
During the revolution that started in 1774, the only governing body representing the thirteen colonies was known as Congress. At their beginning they had no power to regulate commerce or lay taxes, and had little ability to enforce any of their decisions, but it would be this group that would declare independence and create a new political entity that would become the United States of America.
Fifty-four men made up the First Continental Congress, which represented the various interests, religions and conflicting opinions of the colonists. This group of men, despite not knowing each other and with no history of successful cooperation, overcame their differences and started down the road to separation from England.
In June of 1776, as the largest invasion force in British Military history was headed for New York Harbor, Thomas Jefferson was busy composing a draft of the Declaration of Independence. This declaration announced the separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain and the establishment of the United States of America, explaining the causes in a long list of charges against King George III. At the time, Jefferson wasn’t writing anything original, but simply articulating the ideals of the Revolution, beliefs in liberty, and the right to self-determination. American’s embraced a view of the world in which a persons position was determined not by birth, rank or title, but by talent, ability, and enterprise. That wildly held view had already started circulating in newspapers, pamphlets, sermons and schoolbooks, but it was Jefferson who would put the immortal words to it that have inspired downtrodden people throughout the world to rise up against their oppressors.
On July 2, 1776, Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain, and then on July 4th they completed editing of Jefferson’s document, reducing a quarter of its text, and formally adopted the Declaration, thus throwing off the British monarchy from power. Though approved and adopted, the document wouldn’t be signed until August 2, 1776.
Here is the full text of the United States Declaration of Independence.
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 likely to 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 shewn, 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 harrass 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: