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Independence Day

The Declaration of Independence

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It All Started with Virginia

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Although we celebrate the 4th of July as the birth of this country's independence from Britain, the seeds were sown a month earlier by a Virginian and actually began to bloom on 2 July 1776.

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed to the Second Continental Congress that the thirteen colonies become independent from Great Britain, on 7 June 1776. By the end of that day, there was little consensus but the delegates did appoint a five-man committee to draft a declaration of independence to be considered at the meeting of 1 July. Because Benjamin Franklin was ill at the time, the task fell to John Adams who, recognizing that Thomas Jefferson was the better writer, delegated the task of writing the declaration to Jefferson. Adams, a gifted orator, defended the document when it was presented to the Second Continental Congress, and it was passed on 2 July. John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, the following day that, "The second of July will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America... it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival".

Two days later, on 4 July 1776, the Declaration was formally approved by 12 of the thirteen colonies, delegates from New York abstaining because they thought they did not have the power. They signed on 9 July.

You can see the original Lee Resolution on Footnote by clicking on the images to the right. The first two are from the June meeting; the last image is from 2 July 1776. The dash marks at the bottom of the document indicate the colonies as they signed. You can see the Declaration of Independence on American Milestone documents, also on Footnote. Read them both and see the similarities, and differences.

Today, few people know the name of Richard Henry Lee; we are more familiar with the names of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

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