Important Texts: The Declaration of Independence

The first permanent settlement in America was the Jamestown Colony. This settlement developed all the way back in 1607. The Pilgrims set up another colony in Plymouth in 1620. After the establishment of these two settlements, more colonies built up all along the Atlantic Ocean. People were happy living in these colonies for a while, but then fights broke out over who owned certain pieces of territory. The French and Indian War settled some of the arguments, but conflict kept building as the British taxed more and more of the goods imported by the colonists. These taxes, along with several other acts by the British, led to the Revolutionary War. The colonists eventually decided they wanted the freedom to run their own government, so Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to break ties to England and give the colonists individual freedoms.

Before the Revolutionary War, the colonists were upset because the British government imposed a tax on tea. Instead of listening to the colonists, British government officials tried to separate the colonies from each other. Officials closed the port of Boston, making it impossible for the colonists to get their imported food and other products. Some of the colonists became so upset that they boarded three British ships and threw 45 tons of tea overboard into Boston Harbor, in what became known as the Boston Tea Party. The colonists banding together and deciding to fight against England and become an independent nation was what led to the start of the Revolutionary War.

The war officially started in 1775, when the first shots were fired in Massachusetts. However, not everyone thought fighting against England was a good idea. Many American settlers fought for England. Several Native American tribes also fought for England because they thought it would prevent the colonists from taking their land. George Washington led the Continental Army against the British Troops, with Americans winning the war early on. While the war was going on, several men came together and wrote what came to be the foundation for the United States of America.

The purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to put in to writing all of the reasons the colonists were upset with the British monarchy. The declaration listed many grievances against England. The grievances were listed in a part of the declaration known as the “Charges Against the King and Parliament.” The colonists were upset with the British for many reasons. Some of the biggest reasons were: the British had cut off the ability of the colonists to trade with other parts of the world, forced the colonists to house British troops, and denied the colonists the benefit of a trial by jury for their alleged crimes.

The Declaration of Independence is composed of four different parts: the preamble, “Statement of Human Rights,” “Charges Against Human Rights,” and “Statement of Separation and Signatures.” The preamble is the most famous part of the Declaration of Independence, and contains the famous phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” The statement of separation and signatures contains the declaration that the colonies were to operate as free and independent states. This broke up the relationship between the British and the American colonists.

Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and John Adams belonged to the committee in charge of writing the Declaration of Independence. The committee members asked Thomas Jefferson to write the first draft of the document. In June 1776, the committee reviewed the rough draft and then the document was passed to Congress for review. During the first few days of July 1776, Congress revised some portions of the document. It was on July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The members of Congress officially signed the declaration on July 19, 1776.

The Declaration of Independence created a lasting legacy of freedom for all American citizens. This important document allowed the American colonists to live their lives without worrying about rules made by the British monarchy. As a result, the colonists were able to trade goods with other countries, make their own goods, and govern their own colonies. The freedom gained by adopting this declaration eventually led to the creation of the formal government we still use today.

The Declaration of Independence is now on display in the National Archives, in Washington, D.C. This building also houses other important freedom documents, such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Anyone can view this important document during a visit to the National Archives building.

These pages contain information and activities to help kids learn more about the Declaration of Independence.

 

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