Lesson Plan - Get It!
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most exciting and innovative documents ever written! It initiated the colonies' independence from Great Britain, introduced new and profound political ideas, and sparked revolutions in favor of democracy all over the world.
Today, as you explore what makes this document so special, think about what this declaration meant for the colonies, and the risks the signers were taking by declaring independence!
While the fighting for the Revolutionary War began in 1775, the colonies did not officially declare independence from Great Britain until July 4, 1776.
Initially, the colonists were only fighting for their rights as British citizens, and very few sought complete independence. But, as the war progressed, a movement for independence from the British ignited.
In June 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from the crown and appointed a five-man committee with the task of drafting a letter to the British government that would explain their decision.
The men appointed to this important task were Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), John Adams (Massachusetts), Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), and Robert Livingston (New York). The committee agreed to allow Thomas Jefferson to write the initial draft because Jefferson had proved to have a way with words throughout the revolution.
The 33-year-old Jefferson wrote what is now considered to be one of the best-written and most revolutionary documents ever conceived.
In the document, Jefferson stated that it had become necessary for the colonies to declare independence, and provided a list of reasons why.
After Jefferson finished writing his masterpiece, the other members of the appointed committee reviewed the document, not making any significant changes.
The committee presented the document to the Continental Congress, who spent a few days reviewing and revising the work. Altogether, only about a fifth of Jefferson's original wording was changed.
The Continental Congress officially approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
Although it was approved on July 4, it was not actually signed until August 2, because the document was sent away to be printed on parchment. Printing the declaration on parchment, a stiff material made from animal skin, would allow the document to last longer than regular paper.
Signing the Declaration of Independence posed a huge risk to all who signed. The signers were committing treason — betraying their country — and treason was typically punishable by death. But, that did not stop the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock. He signed his name first and wrote it extra large, stating, "There, I guess King George will be able to read that without his spectacles." Altogether, 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence. Today, we celebrate its signing on the 4th of July.
Watch Declaration of Independence - Hear and Read the Full Text - Thomas Jefferson from TimelessReader1:
You can also take a closer look at the Declaration of Independence by visiting America's Founding Documents, at the National Archives.
To find out more about how the founding fathers were feeling when they approved the Declaration of Independence, watch a re-enactment of the declaration's approval from the miniseries John Adams (below):
The Passing of The Declaration of Independence - John Adams - HBO:
To review everything you have just learned about the Declaration of Independence, watch this Crash Course History of the 4th of July: Crash Course US History Special video:
Continue on to the Got It? section to go from a word search puzzle to creating your own declaration!