The Declaration of Independence
What kinds of people settled the new lands of America? They had their own ideas about laws, religion, and what makes a good government. They were, in a word, independent.
In 1776, England was faraway, and people on this side of the Atlantic were heartily sick and tired of paying taxes on top of taxes to finance England's empty treasury. They were tired, too, of losing money by having the Crown interfere with their trade overseas. The men in the assemblies shouted that King George was a tyrant, so the King's men stopped the assemblies. When they still protested, the King brought in the army, making the colonists put them up in their houses. Any crimes the soldiers committed against the colonists were handled in the King's court by the King's judges.
The Declaration of Independence said that King George III, who acted in every way the part of the tyrant, was not fit "to be the ruler of a free people." The signers declared that the new states that they represented had the right to wage war against the Crown, continue to trade as they liked, and set up their own laws. The new government would be by the people and for the people, different from anything modern history had seen.
By putting their names on the Declaration, the 54 men might well have been signing their own death warrants. Had the Revolution failed, they would have been high on the list of traitors to the Crown, certain to be imprisoned or more likely executed. Their committment to a higher ideal despite their differences and the danger of their situation prompted John Hancock to say, "There must be no pulling different ways: we must all hang together." Benjamin Franklin added, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Its brave and fiery words inspired both the citizens and the new American Army to suffer through a long war to defeat the British Army and begin an independent nation.
Read more about the Declaration of Independence on the Web and in the library:
In the Library
The Declaration of Independence illustrated and inscribed by Sam Fink ; text by Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson may have written the Declaration of Independence, but Sam Fink's drawings bring it to life for students. Every section has its own page featuring light-hearted cartoons that show the meaning of Jefferson's words. Includes definitions of some of the harder words.
Give Me Liberty! The Story of the Declaration of Independence by Russell Freedman.
Freedmen, an award-winning author, begins with the nighttime raid of three ships in Boston Harbor by teenage apprentices and seasoned patriots and follows the course of the American Revolution up to the signing of the Declaration.
If You Were There in 1776 by Barbara Brenner.
What kind of world did children in 1776 know, and what freedoms were their parents fighting to maintain? Separate chapters on slaves and Native Americans make it clear that these groups' liberties were not a part of the plan.
Rebellion Town, Williamsburg, 1776.
Traces the events which led to the Declaration of Independence, with emphasis on the events in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Unlocking the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence by Robert M. Goldberg and Richard M. Haynes.
Explains the basic concepts of the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Includes review questions.
Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? by Jean Fritz.
John Hancock was one of the most famous signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a very wealthy man-- the richest in New England! Jean Fritz tells the interesting story of the man who wrote his name so large that King George would not have to put on his spectacles to read it.
On the Web
Ben's Guide to U.S. Government: The Declaration of Independence
A transcription of the Declaration and links to more information on the document with a listing by colony of its signers.
Biographies of the Founding Fathers
Formally written and brief (1 to 2 pages) biographies of the signers of the Declaration of Independence taken from a book published in 1829.
Jefferson's Original Draft of the Declaration of Independence
The originial "Rough Draught" of the Declaration has Jefferson's deletions and additions.
Join the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
This exhibit from the National Archives has a time line for the document's creation and a fact sheet about the signers. You can add your own name to the Declaration and print it out at home.