Being early July, the hot, humid air in the room must have been unbearable, and certainly not ideal for creating the groundwork of a new nation. But the 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia pressed on — and likely knew what they were doing was tantamount to treason.
Sweaty foreheads and hands were perhaps the least of their worries; not getting their necks stretched by England’s King George III may have been more on the delegates’ minds.
And yet, they still authored one of the most sacred documents of man’s quest for freedom and equality the English language — and the world — has ever known.
They wrote, “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.”
This Saturday we celebrate our nation’s 239th birthday — and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a remarkable and brilliant document, which fearlessly declared that the 13 colonies had cut their allegiance to the British Crown. It also declared that, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” With King George III’s ascent to the throne — and rule — believed to be ordained by God, such words were treason indeed.
All of which makes the Declaration of Independence much more than just fascinating U.S. history. It provided a moral compass for a founding nation that prevails today, a compass that President Abraham Lincoln reportedly said heavily influenced his political philosophy, and even insisted be used to interpret the U.S. Constitution.
Historians have broken down the document into five parts: the Introduction, the Preamble, the Indictment of King George III, the Denunciation of the British People, and the Conclusion. Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft in June 1776. He, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, were appointed by Congress to write and present the document to Congress.
We’ve published the full text of the document on the next page. If you haven’t read it in a while, may its presence here serve as a reminder of the risk the 56 delegates were willing to take to free the colonies of England. That risk, and the courage to overcome fear for the greater good of the people, is part of what makes the United States the envy of the world.
“We hold these truths…” from the preamble are perhaps the most widely known words. But the following text from the conclusion also stand strong and make it known that this nation does not take freedom and honor lightly.
“We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress … solemnly publish and declare, 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 … they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”