by: Brent Smith
It was May of 1775 and the second Continental Congress met for the first time. Growing weary of King George III’s utter lack of attention towards the petition to redress grievances sent by the first Continental Congress, the colonists decided to act.
In June of that year the Congress developed their own currency separate of the crown. They also established the first Continental Army, calling themselves the “United Colonies.”
Getting word of the colonies seditious behavior the King declared that the American colonists were “engaged in open and avowed rebellion.” The British Parliament passed the “American Prohibitory Act” later that year, which instituted a naval blockade of all American ports and halted the colonies’ trade with the world and among each other.
March of 1776 saw the second Continental Congress pass “The Privateering Act” giving privateers permission to attack British blockade vessels, for the colonies had not the funds to form a proper Navy.
By April, colonial ports were open to other nations to trade directly with the colonies.
One year after the second Continental Congress first met, eight of the colonies pledged their support for independence with the Virginia delegation exclaiming “the delegates appointed to represent this colony in general Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.”
On June 7, 1776 Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee read aloud:
“Resolved: that these United colonies are, and of right ought 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.”
Drawing on Lee’s resolution “The Committee of Five” was formed to draft a formal resolution to be presented to the states and the world.
Unlike the collection of idiots that call themselves the gang of this or that in today’s government “The Committee of Five” was a tad more formidable. It comprised John Adams (Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Robert Livingston (New York) and Thomas Jefferson (Virginia).
The other four members of the committee voted unanimously to charge Jefferson with drafting a declaration, which he did, subsequently submitting it to Franklin and Adams for corrections. Despite being a quite reluctant slave owner, Jefferson included language in his original draft condemning the British slave trade. It was edited out. Jefferson was quite upset over the edit.
The final draft was submitted to the Continental Congress.
On July 2, 1776 Henry Lee’s resolution was adopted by 12 of 13 colonies. New York did not vote. Congress’s attention immediately shifted to Jefferson and The Committee of Five’s declaration.
On July 4 the “Declaration of Independency” was adopted, yet was only signed by two men, John Hancock, president of the Congress and Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress. The other 54 signatories were left off for fear of immediate reprisal from the British. Church bells rang throughout Philadelphia heralding the signing. That original draft is housed in the Library of Congress.
The printer, John Dunlap, then printed copies of the Declaration. 26 copies of the original “Dunlap Broadside” still exist. Out of how many, no one knows, but they were all printed the night of July 4. The remaining colony, New York, approved the Declaration on July 9, 1776.
On July 8, the Declaration of Independency was received in Northampton County, Pa. and proclaimed in the following order:
“The Colonel, and all other Field-Officers of the First Battalion, repaired to the Court House, the Light Infantry company marching there with drums beating, fifes playing, and the Standard, (the device for which is the Thirteen United Colonies,) which was ordered to be displayed; and after that the Declaration was read aloud to a great number of spectators, gave their hearty assent with three loud huzzas, and cried out, ‘May God long preserve and unite the Free and Independent States of America.’”
No one is certain who prepared the official Declaration but it was most likely Timothy Matlock due to his engrossing skill.
As I stated, just two on July 4 signed the declaration. The official signing was August 2, 1776. As stated, the first signatory was the president of the Congress, John Hancock. His signature was followed in a very strict order of their geographic location – North to South, starting with New Hampshire and ending with Georgia.
Interestingly, one of the members of “The Committee of Five” did not sign the Declaration. Robert Livingston’s signature is conspicuously missing, for he thought it was too soon to declare independence.
It was not until January 18, 1777 that the official copy of the “Declaration of Independency” was printed by Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore Maryland. This is the document we recognize today.