Thursday, July 5, 2012

Intern's Corner: Independence Day

History of the Declaration of Independence
By Mark Relation, DLAR Intern

          Despite the already established revolutionary sentiment in America following the numerous taxes and the fighting in Lexington and Concord, many Americans of the Continental Congress in 1776 were still reluctant to break from the British Empire.  Several were still proud of their status as British subjects, celebrated their British heritage, and felt strong loyalty to the King.  Another significant concern was what would replace the British should they be expelled from the colonies; many feared internal struggles and civil war or that they would replace the British with an even worse alternative. 

          In spite these reservations, revolutionary sentiment began to gain sway early in 1776 thanks to two important documents: the Prohibitory Act and Common Sense.  The first was a law passed in the British Parliament in December 1775 that prohibited trade with the colonies and marked colonial ships as enemies of Britain and to be treated as such.  This amounted to a declaration of war in spirit if not in name, and convinced many that they no longer had any allegiance or obligation to the crown.  The famous Common Sense, printed in January 1776, proved itself vital to the Revolutionary movement, getting the word out and transforming Revolution from the ravings of the radicals into a topic that people could openly support.  With up to 500,000 copies sold, Common Sense did much to create Revolutionary sentiment and solidify the ideals of the movement. 

          In the wake of these two documents, the Continental Congress began to pass legislation and create new state governments without British approval, effectively establishing themselves as a new, independent government.  However, many delegates to the Continental Congress were still reluctant to formally declare independence, believing peaceful solutions were still viable or disagreeing outright with separating from the British Empire.  When the issue came up in Congress, seven delegations were in support and six were opposed, so Congress appointed a committee to create a formal draft of the resolution, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. 

          After numerous revisions and alterations, a final draft was formed, and it was passed with a 12-0 vote (New York abstained) on July 2nd, 1776, with a final alteration on July 4th.  The Declaration was signed by delegates at different times, with the majority signing on August 2nd, and signified the formal beginning to the seven year conflict that created America.

Blanco, Richard L., and Paul J. Sanborn. The American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Pub., 1993. Print. p. 446-449.

Hicks, Edward.  Declaration of Independence.  1845

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