Creating the Declaration of Independence

Consent of the Governed: Antecedent Documents

Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776

A call for American independence from Britain, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was drafted by George Mason in May 1776 and amended by Thomas Ludwell Lee (1730–1778) and the Virginia Convention. It was adopted by the Virginia Convention on June 12, 1776. Thomas Jefferson borrowed many ideas and phrases from the Virginia document when he drafted the Declaration of Independence a few weeks later. The Virginia Declaration of Rights has also been heralded as a model for the first ten amendments to the federal Constitution, the amendments known as the "Bill of Rights."

Author: George Mason with amendments by Thomas Ludwell Lee
Title: Virginia Declaration of Rights
Medium: Manuscript
Date: May 1776
Collection: George Mason Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Virginia Declaration of Rights
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Common Sense, 1776

In January 1776, Thomas Paine (1737–1809) penned his famous pamphlet Common Sense, in which he urged the American Colonies to declare independence and immediately sever all ties with the British monarchy. With its strong arguments against monarchy, Common Sense paved the way for the Declaration of Independence more than any other single publication. Paine suggested a form of government to replace the British colonial system:
a one-house legislature for each colony that would be subordinate to a one-house continental congress with no executive power at either level.

Author: Thomas Paine
Title: Common Sense. . . .
City: Philadelphia
Publisher: R. Bell
Date: 1776
Collection: Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Common Sense
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Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, 1775

The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms puts forth the reasons for America’s rebellion that were raised in the 1775 congressional declaration. Although the final manifesto stressed a hope for the restoration of peace, Thomas Jefferson’s draft was a "Spirited Manifesto," according to John Adams (1735–1826). The spirited and creative qualities of Jefferson’s writing helped secure his selection as chair of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Author: Thomas Jefferson
Title: Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
Medium: Manuscript
Date: 1775
Collection: Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
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Fairfax County Resolves, 1774

The Fairfax County Resolves, written by George Mason (1725–1792) and George Washington (1731/32–1799) and presented on July 17, 1774, was the first clear statement of fundamental constitutional rights of the British American colonies as subjects of the British Crown. Adopted the next day by the Fairfax County Convention, which met to protest British retaliations against Massachusetts after the Boston Tea Party, the resolves call for a "firm Union" of the colonies because an injury against one colony is "aimed at all."

Author: George Mason and George Washington
Title: Fairfax County Resolves
Medium: Manuscript
Date: July 17, 1774
Collection: George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Fairfax County Resolves
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Two Treatises of Government, 1690

The works of John Locke (1632–1704), well-known English political philosopher, provided many Americans with the philosophical arguments for inalienable natural rights, principally those of property and of rebellion against abusive governments. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson did not incorporate Locke’s emphasis in his "Second Treatise of Government" on the right to property but gave the right to rebel a prominent place.

Author: John Locke
Title: Two Treatises of Government
City: London
City: Awnsham Churchill
Date: 1690
Collection: Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Two Treatises of Government
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First Printed Version of the Declaration of Independence, 1776

Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and directed that it be printed by John Dunlap. This only surviving fragment of the Declaration broadside printed by Dunlap was sent on July 6, 1776, to George Washington by John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. General Washington had this Declaration read to his assembled troops on July 9 in New York, where they awaited the combined British fleet and army.

Author: Thomas Jefferson
Title: Declaration of Independence
City: Philadelphia
Publisher: John Dunlap
Date: July 4, 1776
Collection: George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

First Printed Version of the Declaration of Independence
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