This month in history: American Declaration of Independence

On 4 July 1776, the American Congress accepted the Declaration of Independence. The Gazette was the first European newspaper to announce American independence (Gazette issue 11690), so as part of our ‘This month in history’ series, we look at the Thirteen Colonies formally ending their links to Britain.

Declaration of Independence

What is the American Declaration of Independence?

The United States Declaration of Independence is a document approved by the Continental Congress on 4 July 1776 at a meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Written predominantly by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration explained why the Thirteen Colonies regarded themselves as independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule: “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States.”

Possibly the most famous passage from the Declaration stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

With the Declaration of Independence, the new states took a collective first step towards forming the United States of America. The Declaration was signed by representatives of:

  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts Bay
  • Rhode Island
  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia

Since 1952 the original parchment document of the Declaration of Independence has resided in the National Archives exhibition hall in Washington, D.C.

Why did the Thirteen Colonies declare independence?

The American Declaration of Independence listed a total of 27 colonial grievances against King George III, describing him as “a tyrant, [who] is unfit to be the ruler of a free people”:

  1. He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
  2. He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
  3. He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
  4. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
  5. He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
  6. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
  7. He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
  8. He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
  9. He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
  10. He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
  11. He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.
  12. He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.
  13. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:
  14. For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.
  15. For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.
  16. For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world.
  17. For imposing taxes on us without our consent.
  18. For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury.
  19. For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses.
  20. For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies.
  21. For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments.
  22. For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
  23. He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.
  24. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
  25. He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.
  26. He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.
  27. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

What was the Olive Branch Petition?

The Declaration of Independence came only a year after the Olive Branch Petition was written on 8 July 1775. The Olive Branch Petition was signed by representatives of the Thirteen Colonies in a bid to avoid war between Britain and the colonies.

The colonies wrote that they were faithful subjects of the King and of Great Britain, however they were unhappy with new laws and rules that Britain was trying to enforce. They appealed to the King to use his influence to get rid of the laws in a last attempt to avoid a war.

Angered by the demands, George III rejected the petition and sent his armed forces to fight. The American War of Independence followed but by March 1776, the British were forced out of Boston and no British soldier was in the 13 rebel colonies for several months. The Americans used the opportunity to declare their independence.

On August 6 1776, The Gazette was the first European newspaper to announce American independence when a letter from General William Howe to the Secretary of State for America Lord George Germain was published: ‘I am informed that the Continental Congress have declared the United Colonies free and independent States’ (Gazette issue 11690).

Did the Declaration of Independence have an immediate effect?

Despite the Declaration, fighting ensued for seven more years and it was not until 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, that Britain finally gave up its claims to the 13 states. The signing of the treaty formally ended the American Revolution and was announced in The Gazette on 4 October 1783 (Gazette issue 12481).

See also

American citizens with honorary British knighthoods and damehoods

This month in history: VE Day, 75 years on

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 3 July 2020

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.