Declaration of Independence Viewing Guide

parchment

signatures

treason

Parliament

French and Indian War

taxation

Samuel Adams

Boston Massacre

Paul Revere

Boston Tea Party

Lexington & Concord

Second Continental Congress

Thomas Paine

Common Sense

independence

Committee of Five

Thomas Jefferson

draft

War for Independence

Treaty of Paris

facsimiles

equality

Founders

preservation

  • National Archives: This building was opened in 1952 to house the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights. The documents are displayed in special bulletproof display cases and stored in underground vaults.
  • Independence Day: July 4, 1776 is the birthday of the United States because the Second Continental Congress voted to publish the Declaration of Independence.
  • Dunlap Broadside: John Dunlap and his team of printers printed an estimated 150 copies of the Declaration. The copies have the names of President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thompson printed at the bottom. Only 25 copies of the Dunlap Broadside are known to exist and are really the oldest copies of the Declaration of Independence.
  • parchment: This Declaration was written by hand on animal skin and signed on August 2, 1776. Although this is not the first Declaration, it is more significant because it has 56 signatures.
  • Signers: The 56 Delegates signed in the order of their colonies, with a few exceptions. Signers were not all present on one day. John Dickinson did not sign the document because he hoped to delay independence. John Hancock signed the Declaration with the largest signature so that King George could see it without putting on his spectacles.
  • treason: The signers committed treason by signing the Declaration because it was considered illegal to declare independence from the British Crown.
  • Parliament: This British legislative body passed a lot of laws or Acts that were considered intolerable by the colonists. For over 150 years, the colonists were very loyal followers of the British Crown and Parliament.
  • French and Indian War: Britain won title to almost all of North America territory east of the Mississippi after this war. By 1763, King George III and his Ministers had to cover the cost of war debt and maintaining a standing army in the colonies.
  • taxation: After the British imposed taxes upon the colonies, the colonists used the motto, "No Taxation without Representation" to explain how taxation was illegal because they did not have representation in Parliament and also had not given their consent or permission to the Acts. Colonists tarred and feathered British officials in retaliation.
  • Samuel Adams: He was an American patriot who helped provoke Americans to declare independence by publishing numerous reports of British tyranny.
  • Boston Massacre: By March, 1770, the colonists were fed up with the standing British army. After American civilians threw snowballs filled with pieces of bricks at British soldiers, the soldiers opened fire and killed five people. It is unclear what side first shouted "fire!"
  • Paul Revere: He created an engraving of the Boston Massacre that was published throughout the colonies and helped engrave acts of British tyranny into the minds of colonists.
  • Boston Tea Party: In 1773, the British passed the Tea Act that outraged New Englanders. Colonists dressed as Indians dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor to protest the Tea Act.
  • Lexington & Concord: In April, 1775, British forces were moved to Concord to take control of an armory. The "shot heard round the world" was fired by either the British or Americans and started the War for American Independence. News of fighting spread throughout the land.
  • Second Continental Congress: In May, delegates from all thirteen colonies met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to discuss the policies and Acts they felt represented British tyranny.
  • Thomas Paine: He wrote a pamphlet called Common Sense to explain in plain and powerful language why Americans should be free of British rule.
  • Common Sense: This popular pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in January of 1776 popularized the idea of American Independence.
  • independence: Richard Henry Lee of Virginia in June of 1776 presented to Congress a document stating the colonies ought to be free and independent States. New Englanders wanted independence, as did Virginians, but some colonies still desired reconciliation with Britain.
  • Committee of Five: On June 11, 1776, a committee of five was chosen to draft the Declaration. Roger Sherman from Connecticut, Robert Livingston from New York, John Adams from Massachusetts, Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania were chosen. Adams declined to write the document and gave three reasons for Jefferson to write the Declaration.
  • Thomas Jefferson: The author of the Declaration of Independence had to popularize the idea of independence by borrowing ideas, words, and concepts that were well known throughout the colonies. He borrowed his own ideas from the draft of the Virginia Constitution. Jefferson also borrowed similar phrases from George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights.
  • draft: It took Jefferson two weeks to write the Declaration. Jefferson wrote for the eye and ear in a poetic style. Jefferson claimed that a people could overthrow a tyrannical government and therefore the colonies had a right to be free and independent States. There were many minor changes made to the Declaration, including South Carolina asking that the removal of the slavery passage. Franklin and Adams made 16 changes, the Committee of Five made 31 changes and the delegates of the Second Continental Congress made 39 changes.
  • Declaration of Independence: South Carolina and Pennsylvania did not support independence at first. John Adams said that July 2, 1776 would be the date celebrating American Independence, but Congress debated Jefferson's draft for two days. On July 4, 1776, the delegates approved the Declaration. The Declaration appeared in thirty newspapers and was read to soldiers and civilians.
  • War of Independence: By July 9, 1776 numerous colonies and soldiers had ripped down royal arms. Americans fought for seven years against the British to gain independence. This war is also called the American Revolution.
  • Treaty of Paris: Representatives of Great Britain and the United States of America signed this treaty in Paris on September 3, 1783. It ended the American Revolutionary War and made the colonies free and independent States.
  • facsimiles: Nationalism surged during and after the War of 1812, which led in 1818 to printers producing artistic Declarations in all shapes and sizes to advertise products.
  • equality: The phrase, "All men are created equal" inspired women rights in 1848, Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," Martin Luther's "I Have a Dream" speech, race equality, and the constitutions of some foreign nations.
  • Founders: John Adams in Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson in Virginia both died on July 4, 1826, which was exactly fifty years after the approval of the Declaration. Charles Carroll was the last signer of the Declaration to die in 1832.
  • preservation: The Declaration was written on parchment and exposed for decades to a lot of moisture and sunlight. Scotch tape or pressure-sensitive tape was used to mend the Declaration. In 1951, the Declaration was placed in a case where humidified helium was placed between filtered glass to stop the harmful effects of oxygen. New titanium encasements were built in 2003 to further protect the Declaration by keeping it stored at 67 degrees.
Declaration of Independence Viewing Notes