4, 1776, the thirteen colonies claimed their independence from England,
an event which eventually led to the formation of the United States. Each
year on July 4th, also known as Independence Day, Americans celebrate this
Conflict between the colonies and England was already a year old when the
colonies convened a Continental Congress in Philadelphia in the summer of
1776. In a June 7 session in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence
Hall), Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution with the famous
words: "Resolved: 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, and that all political connection between them and
the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
Lee's words were the impetus for the drafting of a formal Declaration of
Independence, although the resolution was not followed up on immediately.
On June 11, consideration of the resolution was postponed by a vote of seven
colonies to five, with New York abstaining. However, a Committee of Five
was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies'
case for independence. Members of the Committee included John Adams of Massachusetts,
Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert
R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The task of
drafting the actual document fell on Jefferson.
On July 1, 1776, the Continental Congress reconvened, and on the following
day, the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies,
New York not voting. Discussions of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence
resulted in some minor changes, but the spirit of the document was unchanged.
The process of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late
afternoon of July 4, when the Declaration was officially adopted. Of the
13 colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration, two -- Pennsylvania
and South Carolina -- voted No, Delaware was undecided and New York abstained.
John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration
of Independence. It is said that John Hancock's signed his name "with a
great flourish" so England's "King George can read that without spectacles!"
Today, the original copy of the Declaration is housed in the National
Archives in Washington, D.C., and July 4 has been designated a national
holiday to commemorate the day the United States laid down its claim to
be a free and independent nation.