The 4th of July 1776 marks the birth of the United States of America as a nation independent of its former colonial masters, the British Empire. Thirteen states along the eastern seaboard declared themselves independent of Britain bringing to a head a diplomatic, legal and eventually, military battle against what they saw as increasingly unfair taxes as well as other restrictions imposed on her colonies by the British Government. The Declaration was commonly held to have been signed by the 56 signatories on the 4th of July, as that is the date of the document but in fact it is commonly accepted that many of the signatories didn't sign until the 2nd August 1776.
The main author of the Declaration was Thomas Jefferson with help from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. It sets out the right of the American people to self-governance and self-determination, it asserts certain natural and legal rights and lists the causes of oppression against the colonies by the British Government, before finally declaring the independence of the thirteen signatory states. The Declaration contains one of the most famous of all sentences of political philosophy which not only serves as the foundation upon which the United States of America has built its justice system but it has influenced countless other countries and legislatures throughout the world in the 240 years since it was published. The famous text reads:
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.
Seven Interesting Facts About the Declaration of Independence
- The most famous signature is that of President of Congress, John Hancock whose large and flamboyant signature is at the centre of the Declaration at the bottom presumably because he signed first. The term "John Hancock" became widely used as a colloquial term for signature.
- There are 56 signatories on behalf of the thirteen states decalring independence,
- Many of the signatories were not present on the 4th July and therefore had to sign later.
- The last signatory was Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire who asked for permission to sign when he attended the Continental Congress in November 1776. He was given permission to do soand signed on the 4th November 1776.
- Two of the signatories to the Declaration would go on to become Presidents of the United States of America. They are John Adams and Thomas Jefferson the second and third Presidents respectively.
- Perhaps the most famous of the founding fathers, George Washington, the man who became first President, did not sign the Declaration of Independence as he was the main military commander and was engaged in plans to defend New York from British attack at the time the second Continental Congress was held.
- Washington subsequently read the Declaration aloud to a gathering in New York city in front of City Hall. The words inspired such fervour in the crowd that they rioted and tore down a statute of King George III of England. The statue was subsequently melted down and made into musket balls to be used by the American Revolutionary Army in their fight against the British Army.