Two-hundred-forty years ago this day, the Second Continental Congress (May 10, 1775 March 1, 1781), assembled in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania Statehouse (now Independence Hall), formally ratified the United States Declaration of Independence, which declared that the Thirteen Colonies of Great Britain in the North America were a new nation wholly divorced from the British Empire.
Three boys dressed as a patriotic band celebrate Independence Day on July 4th, in the 1940s. (Bert Garai/Keystone View/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
July 4, Independence Day, is an annual federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration.
The Congress, two days before, on July 2, 1776, had unanimously voted for independence. The Declaration was drafted by a committee of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman, but, largely at the insistence of John Adams, a delegate from Massachusetts and later second President of the United States, the large portion of the task fell to Thomas Jefferson, a delegate from Virginia and later third President of the United States. It is one of the most revered and famous political documents of the modern era. From the Declaration:
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
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.
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.
The Grand Union Flag or Continental Colors; a.k.a. Congress Flag; Cambridge Flag; First Navy Ensign; adopted January 2, 1776.