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Declaration of Independence (United States), in United States history, a document proclaiming the independence of the 13 British colonies in America, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The declaration recounted the grievances of the colonies against the British Crown and declared the colonies to be free and independent states. The proclamation of independence marked the culmination of a political process that had begun as a protest against restrictions imposed by the mother country on colonial trade, manufacturing, and political liberty and had developed into a revolutionary struggle resulting in the establishment of a new nation.
After the United States was established, the statement of grievances in the declaration ceased to have any but historic significance. The political philosophy enunciated in the declaration, however, had a continuing influence on political developments in America and Europe for many years. It served as a source of authority for the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. Its influence is manifest in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted by the National Assembly of France in 1789, during the French Revolution. In the 19th century, various peoples of Europe and of Latin America fighting for freedom incorporated in their manifestos the principles formulated in the Declaration of Independence.
The procedure by which the Declaration of Independence came into being was as follows: On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, in the name of the Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress, moved that “these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent States, 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”. This motion was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts, but action was deferred until July 1, and the resolution was passed on the following day. In the meantime, a committee (appointed June 11) comprising the delegates Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston was preparing a declaration in line with Lee's resolution. Jefferson prepared the draft, using “neither book nor pamphlet”, as he later said. Adams and Franklin made a number of minor changes in Jefferson's draft before it was submitted to Congress, which, on July 4, made a number of additional small alterations, deleted several sections, including one condemning black slavery, incorporated Lee's resolution, and issued the whole as the Declaration of Independence.
The declaration was adopted by a unanimous vote of the delegates of 12 colonies, those representing New York not voting because they had not been authorized to do so. On July 9, however, the New York Provincial Congress voted to endorse the declaration. The document was copied on to parchment in accordance with a resolution passed by Congress on July 19. On August 2, it was signed by the 53 members present. The three absentees signed subsequently.
Congress directed that copies be sent “to the Assemblies, Conventions, and Committees or Councils of Safety, and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States and at the head of the army”.
Upon organization of the national government in 1789, the Declaration of Independence was assigned for safekeeping to the Department of State. In 1841, it was deposited in the Patent Office, then a bureau of the Department of State; in 1877 it was returned to the State Department. Because of the rapid fading of the text and the deterioration of the parchment, the document was withdrawn from exhibition in 1894. With other historic American documents, it is now enshrined in the National Archives Exhibition Hall, Washington, D.C., and is sealed in a glass and bronze case filled with inert helium gas. It is from this document that the accompanying text is reproduced.
In Congress July 4, 1776, The Unanimous Declaration of The Thirteen United States of America
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, having its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown 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. Such has been the patient suffrance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their acts of pretended legislation.
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally, the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever:
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat
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