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Timeline of the Declaration of Independence

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My writing interests are general, with expertise in science, history, biographies, and “how-to” topics. I have written over sixty books.

Strip of four 13-cent stamps commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The stamps were issued as part of the 1976 Bicentennial of America celebration.

Strip of four 13-cent stamps commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The stamps were issued as part of the 1976 Bicentennial of America celebration.

The Declaration of Independence, which was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, proclaimed the original 13 American colonies independent from Great Britain and provided an explanation and justification for the separation. The Declaration was initially a revolutionary manifesto, but over the years the document has become more associated with the ideals that “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” which include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Declaration has had a lasting significance in the struggle for the human rights of all Americans. In the nineteenth century, it was important in the emancipation of African slaves and the women’s suffrage movement. President Abraham Lincoln asserted that the document contains principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.

The Revolutionary War Begins

1765 – The Stamp Act: The British Parliament imposed a tax on printed material in the British colonies in America. Printed materials covered by the tax included: legal documents, magazines, playing cards, newspapers, and other types of printed paper items. The Stamp Act was very unpopular in America and was repealed in March 1766.

1774 – The Coercive Acts: The British Parliament enacted four punitive laws against the British colonies in America in response to the destruction of large quantities of tea by rebels at the Boston Tea Party. In the 13 colonies of America, the Coercive Acts were known as the Intolerable Acts. The four parts of the Coercive Acts included: 1. The Boston Port Act - closed the port of Boston until the destroyed tea was paid for; 2. The Massachusetts Government Act - revoked the charter of Massachusetts and brought the state under control of Parliament; 3. The Justice Act - empowered the Royal governor to move trials to England If the governor believed a fair trial could not be held in Massachusetts; and 4. The Quartering Act - allowed British troops to be housed in colonial buildings and homes.

September 5 to October 26, 1774 – The First Continental Congress: Delegates from 12 of the 13 British colonies in America gathered at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia to respond to the British Parliament imposing the punitive Coercive Act on the colonies. Out of the Congress came an economic boycott of British goods and a petition to King George III pleading for redress of their grievances and repeal of the Coercive Acts.

April 19, 1775 – The Battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts: The first military engagements of what would become the American Revolutionary War occurred between British regular troops and Continental militiamen at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.

1925 two-cent stamp “Birth of a Nation.” The stamp was issued as part of a three-stamp set to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the battle of Lexington and Concord.

1925 two-cent stamp “Birth of a Nation.” The stamp was issued as part of a three-stamp set to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the battle of Lexington and Concord.

The Boston Tea Party

December 16, 1773 – The Boston Tea Party: Demonstrators, dressed as American Indians, destroyed hundreds of chests of British tea in the Boston Harbor. The protest was in regard to the Tea Act of 1773, which allowed the British East India company to sell tea in the American colonies with only taxes imposed by the Townshend Act.

Block of four 1973 eight-cent stamps depicting the Boston Tea Party.

Block of four 1973 eight-cent stamps depicting the Boston Tea Party.

The Second Continental Congress and the Battle of Bunker Hill

May 10, 1775 to March 1781 – The Second Continental Congress: Delegates from the 13 colonies in America met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to respond to the military conflict between the colonies and Great Britain. The Congress functioned as a de facto national government until the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781.

June 17, 1775 – The Battle of Bunker Hill: A battle occurred in Boston between the American colonists led by William Prescott and the British led by William Howe. The British technically won the battle but suffered much heavier casualties than the colonial militia troops.

1975 10-cent stamp issued to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

1975 10-cent stamp issued to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Declaration of Independence Is Born

July 8, 1775: The Second Continental Congress adopted the “Olive Branch Petition” to be sent to King George III seeking reconciliation between the colonists and the British Crown. The king didn’t even bother to read the petition; rather, he declared the colonists in revolt.

January 1776: A recent immigrant from England, Thomas Paine, published his radical pamphlet Common Sense, which called for a complete break of the American colonies from Great Britain. The pamphlet was a bestseller and started many colonists thinking and talking about independence.

May 10 & 15, 1776: The Second Continental Congress passed a resolution written by John Adams with a radical preface that called for the total suppression of Crown authority in the colonies and establishment of new state governments.

June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution into Congress that the United Colonies should be free and absolved from all alliance with the British Crown. Lees Resolution also called for Congress to establish alliances with foreign governments and prepare “a plan of confederation.”

June 11, 1776: Congress appointed a committee of five to draft a declaration on independence from Great Britain in case Lee’s Resolution was approved. The five members of the committee were: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, and Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania. The committee appointed Jefferson to be the prime author of the document based on his known talent as a writer.

June 28, 1776: The committee of five tasked with writing a declaration on independence presented to Congress their draft of the document. Changes submitted to the document’s prime author, Thomas Jefferson, were incorporated into the draft. The title of the document is “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.”

1956 10-cent stamp, “Independence Hall.” Independence Hall, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed.

1956 10-cent stamp, “Independence Hall.” Independence Hall, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

July 1, 1776: Congress debated the text of the Declaration and made changes. Sentiments within Congress remained divided, with nine states in favor, two (Pennsylvania and South Carolina) opposed, and Delaware split. New York delegates abstained from voting due to their instructions being a year old.

July 2, 1776: The Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain. John Adams, who would become the second president of the United States, the next day wrote to his wife Abigail telling her of his day and the momentous event, “The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epoch in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

July 4, 1776: Congress approved the revised text of the document and ordered that it be printed and distributed to the states and Continental Army commanders.

July 9, 1776: New York added its consent as the thirteenth state approving the document, making the approval unanimous among all the states.

July 19, 1776: Congress resolved “that the Declaration passed on July 4th, be fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile ‘The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.’ ”

August 2, 1776: The body of delegates signed the copy of the Declaration of Independence.

January 1777: Congress sent copies of the Declaration signed by all of the delegates to each state.

September 3, 1783: The Treaty of Paris was signed between the newly formed United States of America and Great Britain. The treaty ended the American Revolutionary War, recognized American independence, and granted significant land to America in western North America.

1983 20-cent postage stamp issued to honor the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.

1983 20-cent postage stamp issued to honor the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.

References

  • Boyer, Paul S. (Editor in Chief) The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Maier, Pauline. Dictionary of American History. 3rd Ed., s.v. “Declaration of Independence.” New York: Thompson-Gale, 2003.
  • Montross, Lynn. The Reluctant Rebels: The Story of the Continental Congress 1774-1790. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishing, 1950.
  • West, Doug. Thomas Jefferson: A Short Biography. Missouri: C&D Publications, 2017.
  • Transcript of the Declaration of Independence

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Doug West

Comments

Doug West (author) from Missouri on December 03, 2020:

Alan:

Thanks for the interesting comment. There are always two sides (at least) to every story.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on December 03, 2020:

"Cutting the umbilical cord" struck a chord in the minds of a lot of us Limeys as well. off the coast of Yorkshire we had a sea battle between John Paul Jones and an escort ship with a number of merchantmen. Around the same time a night foray at Whitehaven in the northwest of England (Lake District) attempted to blow up a number of coal ships berthed in the harbour. Because it had rained heavily the ships were all damp and the fire didn't take. The 'colonialists' took a boat ashore and were run in, blind drunk, to jail.

Can't win 'em all, eh?

A lot of British soldiers who'd fought their 'cousins' in the American colonies stayed there - deserted or otherwise. The only ones who weren't missed were King George's Hessian (German troops) who gave a demonstration of 'things to come' in acting out atrocities against civilians. I remember the episode being re-enacted in the film with Al Pacino, "Revolution" (I think that was the name), of where they scored a victory on the German troops. Their officers were made up with a sort of white chalky matter and red lipstick like toy soldiers(?)

We sort of celebrate 4th July here as well (lots of Americans play baseball in Hyde Park.

Stay safe, Covid-19 doesn't respect nationality.

Doug West (author) from Missouri on December 03, 2020:

Tim:

Thanks for the comment. Merry Christmas to you and yours also.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on December 03, 2020:

Excellent history, Doug. It's amazing how much that famous document has influenced our thinking as Americans and across the world. Stay safe and have a merry Christmas.

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