Thomas Jefferson Papers

V. The Declaration of Independence as Adopted by Congress, 11 June–4 July 1776

V. The Declaration of Independence as Adopted by Congress



When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. 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. 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. 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. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. 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 mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. 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: For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences: For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring 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 into these Colonies: For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the Lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. 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. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

John Hancock
Button Gwinnett Thos. Nelson jr. Richd. Stockton
Lyman Hall Francis Lightfoot Lee Jno Witherspoon
Geo Walton. Carter Braxton Fras. Hopkinson
Wm. Hooper Robt. Morris John Hart
Joseph Hewes, Benjamin Rush Abra Clark
John Penn Benja. Franklin Josiah Bartlett
Edward Rutledge. John Morton Wm: Whipple
Thos. Heyward Junr. Geo Clymer Sami. Adams
Thomas Lynch Junr. Jag. Smith. John Adams
Arthur Middleton Geo. Taylor Robt. Treat Paine
Samuel Chase James Wilson Elbridge Gerry
Wm. Paca Geo. Ross Step. Hopkins
Thos. Stone Cesar Rodney William Ellery
Charles Carroll of Carrollton Geo Read Roger Sherman
Tho M:Kean Sami. Huntington
George Wythe Wm. Floyd Wm. Williams
Richard Henry Lee Phil. Livingston Oliver Wolcott
Th Jefferson Frans. Lewis Matthew Thornton
Benja. Harrison Lewis Morris

Engrossed and signed parchment copy (DNA) as engraved by W. J. Stone in 1823 and reproduced in Force, Archives, 5th ser., I, facing col. 1597–8. Among the three official texts of the Declaration of Independence, the parchment copy, believed to have been engrossed by Timothy Matlack (DAB description begins Dictionary of American Biography description ends , art. on Matlack) and known to have been signed on 2 Aug. 1776 (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 626), generally takes precedence. On the signing, see Editorial Note to TJ’s Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress, 7 June to 1 Aug. 1776. Respecting the capitalization and punctuation of this text, see a comment by Carl Becker, quoted at the end of the general Editorial Note, above. The parchment copy was, by law, in the custody of the Department of State from 1789. In 1823 a lithographed facsimile in an edition of 200 copies was made by W. J. Stone, and the copies were distributed in accordance with a joint resolution of Congress of 26 May 1824. (As a surviving signer, TJ received two copies; see Secretary of State J. Q. Adams to TJ, 24. June 1824, and TJ’s acknowledgment of 18 July 1824.) >From 1841 to 1877 the parchment copy was exhibited in the Patent Office, and from then until 1894 in the Department of State. In the latter year, because the text had been seriously damaged both by the wet-press process Stone had used in making his facsimile and by many years’ exposure to light (see photograph in Michael, cited below, between p. 14–15), it was put away in a steel case in the Department, and a facsimile was exhibited instead. By executive order in 1921 the custody of the engrossed and signed copies of both the Declaration and the Constitution was transferred to the Librarian of Congress, and on 28 Feb. 1924 these two documents were placed in a bronze and marble shrine on the second floor of the Library, where they remain on perpetual exhibit under proper guard. (William H. Michael, The Declaration of Independence: Illustrated Story of Its Adoption, Washington, 1904; Hazelton, Declaration of Independence, ch. ix and notes; Gaillard Hunt, The Department of State of the United States, New Haven, 1914, p. 295–313; Librarian of Congress, Annual Report for 1949, p. 36ff.).

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