Today in History the Committee of Five first presented the document to Congress on June 28, 1776.
Drafting the Declaration of Independence
Delegates from each of the Thirteen Colonies met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 to decide the case for liberty. The goal was to convince the States that the time had come for the United Colonies to declare their independence from Mother England.
It was an incredibly difficult time for the young United States. For more than a year, Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies had been at war over the issue of “taxation without representation.” The Colonies believed that their rights were being impeded by the British, who were levying taxes upon them without their consent.
The conflict had quickly escalated into more of an issue than just taxation, however, and many of the Colonies had started to think that they were capable of governing themselves. They were persuaded that Parliament wasn’t looking out for their interests, proven by the fact that despite their population the Colonies had not been allowed represent themselves in the British Legislature.
As a result, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in June of 1776. Slightly more than a month later, the Declaration of Independence was proposed to the States. John Hancock, the first signatory, was the only person to sign on July 4. Many of the other delegates would place their names on the completed Document on August 2 of that same year. The last person to sign, the New Hampshire delegate Matthew Thornton, endorsed the document on November 4, 1776.
The Lee Resolution, also known as the resolution of independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the Thirteen Colonies to be independent of the British Empire. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed it on June 7, 1776. It is the earliest form and draft of the Declaration of Independence.
The text of the Resolution stated:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.
Early in the development, many delegates weren’t yet allowed to vote for independence as the states had not yet authorized them to do so. In the meantime, a group of men were appointed to draft an official declaration, with hopes that the states would soon be willing to back the document when it was sent to the crown in England.
On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five”, consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, to draft a declaration.
This Declaration committee operated from June 11,1776 until July 5, 1776, the day on which the Declaration was published.
The Committee of Five first presented the document to Congress on June 28, 1776.
Originally, the delegates pushed for Richard Henry Lee, author of the Lee Resolution, to write the Declaration of Independence, not Jefferson. However, circumstances changed the course of history. First, Lee was appointed to the Committee of Confederation for the writing of the Articles of Confederation, and thought that being part of both committees would be too great an effort. Second, his wife became gravely ill during the Philadelphia convention, forcing him to return home prematurely.
A young delegate from Virginia who had shown great promise was selected to take Lee’s place. His name was Thomas Jefferson, and he would quickly become one of the most important individuals in the history of the United States. What most people don’t know is that, at first, Jefferson had no interest in penning the Declaration. He wanted John Adams to do it instead. Adams writes in his account of the episode in a letter to Timothy Pickering, a politician from Massachusetts and a good friend of Adams:
“Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I said, ‘I will not,’ ‘You should do it.’ ‘Oh! no.’ ‘Why will you not? You ought to do it.’ ‘I will not.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Reasons enough.’ ‘What can be your reasons?’ ‘Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.’ ‘Well,’ said Jefferson, ‘if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.’ ‘Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.”
And so, it was settled. Over the course of seventeen days, in between meetings and other governmental affairs, Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence under the advisement of the Committee. It was an act that secured Jefferson’s name in history forever.