Richard Henry Lee’s resolution was taken almost verbatim from instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President, Edmund Pendleton. As presented to the second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, Lee’s resolution read:
“Resolved, 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. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation”.
Several colonies were not yet ready to declare independence at that time.
Representatives agreed to delay the vote until July 1, appointing a “Committee of Five” to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain. Members of the committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The committee selected Jefferson to write the document, the draft presented to Congress for review on June 28.
Debate resumed on July 1, 1776, with most of the delegates favoring Lee’s resolution.
The final vote was taken on July 2, when delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies voted in favor. Delegates from New York abstained, having had no clear instructions from their constituents.
The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported on July 2nd that “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States”.
The Pennsylvania Gazette followed suit on the third with “Yesterday, the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES”.
John Adams thought that July 2 would go down as the country’s Independence Day.
This day has been mostly forgotten in favor of July 4, when the final edits of Jefferson’s Declaration were adopted, the final document engrossed (handwritten onto parchment), and sent off to the printer.
The 56 signers were never together at the same time. Many of the signatures we see on the Declaration of Independence, would not be affixed to the document until August 2, possibly even later.
Happy Independence Day.