We all know about the Declaration of Independence. Many have memorized it. We know the principal author was Thomas Jefferson. And we know it was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776.
But the Declaration was, in reality, a press release issued jointly by the American Colonies.
The real document that separated the Colonies from Great Britain was a resolution drafted and proposed by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. Lee’s Resolution, as it has become known, was short and to the point:
“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
Lee proposed his Resolution on June 7, 1776. It was seconded by John Adams. It was debated for several days. On July 2, Lee’s Resolution of Independence was approved by twelve of the thirteen colonies.
Delegates from New York still were waiting on voting instructions and so they abstained on this vote. On July 9 the New York Provincial Congress would vote to “join with the other colonies in supporting” independence.
After passing the resolution of independence on July 2nd, Congress turned its attention to the text of the Declaration. Lee’s wording was added to the conclusion. The final text of the declaration was approved by Congress on July 4th.
John Adams wrote this to his wife Abigail on July 3 about the Resolution of Independence:
“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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated Independence Day on July 4, the date the much-publicized Declaration of Independence was approved, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was adopted.