“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.”
On June 11, 1776, following resolutions passed by the colonies of North Carolina and Virginia, the 2nd Continental Congress appointed the Committee of Five to draft a document declaring the Thirteen Colonies collectively independent of Great Britain. The five appointees:
>> John Adams (Massachusetts)
>> Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania)
>> Thomas Jefferson (Virginia)
>> Robert R. Livingston (New York)
>> Roger Sherman (Connecticut
were given three weeks to draft the document, with the remainder of the representatives to the congress continuing to work at achieving full agreement on the issuing of the declaration.
According to Jefferson’s writings, he was assigned the writing of the draft, which he then had Adams and Franklin review. Jefferson the wrote a new draft to present to the full committee (although the National Archives notes that if this consolidated draft existed, it was lost – but the original draft with Adams’ notes, Franklin’s notes, and Jefferson’s notes of the recommendation of the congress was preserved and is stored in the Library of Congress). From the committee the draft was presented to the Continental Congress when it reconvened on July 1. Over the next few days – into the morning of July 4, the draft was revised, primarily to remove criticisms of the people of Great Britain, so as not to alienate potential future allies. Late in the morning of July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted. On the morning of July 5, 1776, the newly printed copies were distributed out to various colonial assemblies and Continental troop commanders.
Nearly everyone in the United States has memorized the first paragraph (or most of it), and the start of the second, so I pulled the quote above from later in the second paragraph, shortly before the list of offenses by the King against the Colonists was presented. I’ve always found those lines interesting, perhaps more so now in our politically divisive times.
Photo of the Declaration of Independence from the Nation Archives website.
** Originally posted June 11, 2019