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Declaration of Independence

colonies congress july document

Declaration of Independence, document in which representatives of the 13 American colonies set forth the reasons for their break with Britain. July 4, the day in 1776 on which the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, is observed as Independence Day, a U.S. national holiday. A royal proclamation of Aug. 1775 held the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, and in Nov. the British instituted a naval blockade. Prolonged hostilities seemed inevitable, and formal independence was advocated to help the colonies gain assistance from France and Spain. The case for independence was strongly reinforced by the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense (Jan. 1776). Acting on instructions from the Virginia legislature, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution to the Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, stating that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Congress appointed a committee to draw up a formal declaration of independence for consideration. Thomas Jefferson was assigned to draft the document. On July 2, 12 of the 13 colonies approved Lee's resolution, with New York temporarily abstaining. Debate on the Declaration began on July 3, and after a few alterations, it was adopted the following day. Southern sensitivities over slavery caused the most important change: A clause censuring the king for aiding and abetting the slave trade was struck out. Another section that had placed blame on the people of England as well as the king was also eliminated. Only John Hancock, the president of the Congress, and Charles Thompson, the secretary, signed the document on July 4. On Aug. 2, 50 members signed, with another 6 putting their signatures to it later.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen [next] [back] Decimal system

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