The Pittsburgh Press (July 3, 1942)
Background of news –
The Declaration of Independence
By editorial research reports
Tomorrow will be the 166th anniversary of the adoption of the American Declaration of Independence.
One interesting point about the Declaration of Independence is that it was adopted so tardily. More than a year previously, armed conflict had occurred with the English troops, an inter-Colonial Army under Gen. George Washington had been organized to carry on war, and George III had proclaimed the colonists in open rebellion.
The delay in proclaiming independence proved how slowly the colonists came around to the idea. In the interim, sentiment for breaking with the Mother Country had been augmented by a flood of pamphlets, sermons, speeches, newspaper articles.
It was on June 7, 1776, that Richard Henry Lee, for the Virginia delegation, presented a series of three resolutions for independence. The Congress held them in abeyance, but several days later, appointed a committee to draft a statement. Thomas Jefferson was chosen chairman because of his reputation as a facile writer. The other members were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston.
Jefferson composed the document. Some phrases he took verbatim from a rough draft which he had drawn up for a constitution for Virginia. He admitted afterwards that the ideas expressed were not original; they merely voiced sentiments which had become prevalent.
Jefferson accepted changes suggested by Franklin and Adams, then submitted his document to the Congress on June 28. Before adopting it on July 4, Congress made additional changes. For a last paragraph, it added the first of the Lee Resolutions. That had been passed on July 2. Independence was really first affirmed in this Lee Resolution rather than in the Declaration, which was designed primarily to explain and defend action already taken. Technically, therefore, the anniversary of American independence should be July 2 rather than July 4.
The Declaration falls into two divisions. The first presents the ideas about government which the colonists were adopting. Those were based largely on the philosophy of John Locke, which had been used to defend the revolution the English themselves had undertaken in 1688. In 1776, kings were still supposed to rule by divine right; hence it was important to explain why that thesis was being disputed.
The second part of the Declaration rehearses the wrongs perpetrated on the colonists by George III. No mention is made of Parliament, although the acts complained of had been voted by Parliament. Also, the Declaration ignores the rights of the colonists as British subjects, although these rights had been affirmed in the negotiations with Crown and Parliament. The colonists put themselves in a better legal position if they did not admit the power of Parliament over them and did not describe themselves as British subjects. If they were Americans tied to the Mother Country only by a voluntary pledge of allegiance to the King – like British colonials today – they were on better ground in freeing themselves from that allegiance when the King had wronged them.