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Historical Era



The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in which the American colonies set forth a list of grievances against the British Crown and declared they were breaking from British rule to form free and independent states. On July 19, 1776, Congress resolved that the Declaration passed on the 4th be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile [sic] “The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America” and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress. The engrossing was most likely done by Timothy Matlack, an assistant to Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Congress. Although it bears the date “July 4, 1776,” the engrossed Declaration was signed on August 2, 1776, by members of the Continental Congress who were present that day and later by other members of Congress. A total of 56 delegates eventually signed the document.

Learn more in the National Archives online exhibit The Charters of Freedom.

Find further background information and a transcript of the Declaration of Independence on the list of 100 Milestone Documents of American history on

Additional Details from our Exhibits and Publications:

Declaration of Independence

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.

Text adapted from “On the Other Side” in the October 2004 National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) publication Social Education.

Document contains: 2 pages.