The Declaration of Independence is the most famous and iconic document in America, and all of American history. In fact, the history of the United States (as a country) officially began when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.
It is interesting to note that the U.S. is not the only nation with a Declaration of Independence. Such documents are recognized globally as a formal statement for when one group wants to split from another.
Declarations of independence have been produced in hundreds, even thousands of other nations around the world – some successful, others not.
For the 13 American colonies, the Declaration was the legal, formal, and symbolic break with Great Britain. Prior to the completion of the Declaration of Independence, every American colonist was a British citizen.
It was John Adams who suggested that Thomas Jefferson be given the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. Both men were destined to serve as President of the United States in coming years.
However, once Jefferson completed his first draft of the Declaration, it was then rigorously debated by the Continental Congress, which resulted in numerous changes, alterations, deletions, rewordings and rewritings before the final version we have today was agreed upon.
Jefferson himself said that sitting by as Congress ripped to shreds his original draft was among the most nerve wracking and humiliating experiences of his life. But that was the way it had to be. While everything in the document seems clear-cut and straightforward today, it needed to be a compromise between 13 different colonies, all of which were fiercely independent in their own right. That meant endless compromise and revisions, which was not easy since everyone had differing ideas about what should be included and left out.
Even though the Declaration was the result of being hammered out by all members of the Continental Congress, most historians today agree that it bears the stamp of Thomas Jefferson more than any other statesman who participated in writing it.
Becoming World Famous
The American Declaration of Independence is admired around the world as a document of extraordinary eloquence. The fundamental ideas it sets forth are among the most advanced and extraordinary ideas in human history. Lines such as, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have since become some of the most famous and iconic political statements of all time.
The Declaration of Independence consists of five parts: Introduction, Preamble, Indictment, Denunciation, and Signatures. The first and famous signature was that of John Hancock, then President of the Continental Congress. Future Presidents of the U.S. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson also signed it. The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 at the time. The youngest man to sign it was Edward Rutledge, who was just 26.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the war between Britain and the colonies had already been raging for a year. It was a statement by the colonists displaying how determined they were to free themselves from the oppression of their mother country, and to “live free or die.”