“Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in “self-evident truths” and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country. We invite you to read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration.”
Though adopted by the Continental Congress in the summer of 1776, it took some time in the days before the Internet for the new American citizens to find out what’d happened in Philadelphia.
“Most Americans did not know Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence until the 1790s; before that, the document was seen as a collective effort by the entire Continental Congress.”
Though General George Washington wasted little time informing his troops of the momentous happening. On July 9, 1776, he recorded, “The Hon. The Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independent States: The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice. The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: And that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country.”
Almost a month later, on August 2, 1776, “members of Congress affix their signatures to an enlarged copy of the Declaration of Independence.”
“Congress adopted the more poetic Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, two days later, on July 4. The president of Congress, John Hancock, and its secretary, Charles Thompson, immediately signed the handwritten draft, which was dispatched to nearby printers. On July 19, Congress decided to produce a handwritten copy to bear all the delegates’ signatures. Secretary Thompson’s assistant, Philadelphia Quaker and merchant Timothy Matlack, penned the draft.
“News of the Declaration of Independence arrived in London eight days later, on August 10. The draft bearing the delegates’ signatures was first printed on January 18 of the following year by Baltimore printer Mary Katharine Goddard.”