Thomas Jefferson presents his draft of the DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE FROM GREAT BRITAIN to the 2nd Continental Congress, June 28, 1776. The other 4 members of the committee are pictured with him: Benjamin Franklin seated, John Adams (Massachusetts) in black coat, Roger Sherman (Connecticut) and Robert Livingston (New York) standing.

By the 4th of July, 1776 the blood of American militiamen and British regulars soaked the fertile ground in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first major conflict erupted on April 19, 1775 on the green in Lexington, but for five years British Americans in the Bay Colony engaged in an ongoing protest against the English authorities. Red Coat soldiers killed five Bostonian citizens in 1770. High tensions prevailed and the colonists organized their own militia, storing weapons and ammunitions in armories around the region.

By the Spring of 1775 the British authorities in Massachusetts had had enough, and they decided to disarm the colonists. Secretary of State William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth instructed General Thomas Gage to find and destroy the militia’s stores of weaponry. 240 British troops marched from Boston to Concord. 77 armed “Minutemen” formed a battle line on the Lexington green under the command of Militia Captain John Parker. They had no definite battle plan.

At daybreak on April 19th musket shots rang out. Spectators watched the battle from porches and hedges around the green. The British killed eight Americans and wounded ten. The Revolutionary War was on.

At the North Bridge in Concord the militia successfully routed the British who executed a hasty withdrawal back down the 22 miles to Boston. Colonial fighters ambushed the exposed retreating Red Coats, exacting devastating losses on the regulars.

Bloody battles raged in the city resulting in the eventual evacuation of British troops on March 17, 1776.

Acting under the instructions of the Virginia Convention, Richard Henry Lee on June 7, 1776, introduced a resolution in the Second Continental Congress proposing independence for the colonies. The Lee Resolution contained three parts: a declaration of independence, a call to form foreign alliances, and “a plan for confederation.”(

As a result the congressmen appointed a committee to write The Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wrote the draft. Franklin and Adams edited it. On June 28th they presented the Declaration to Congress. On July 2nd Congress approved it. On the Fourth of July 1776 The Declaration of Independence was adopted.

The document listed 28 grievances against King George of England, but the heart of the Declaration is the preamble. Jefferson’s words captured the spirit of liberty that set in motion the future trajectory of America. Rooted in secular philosophy and Biblical theology this inspired paragraph defined the courageous idea that free and equal citizens may govern themselves.

A foreigner (an Irishman) explains:
“Because America’s an idea, isn’t it? I mean, Ireland’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. Great Britain’s a great country, it’s not an idea. That’s how we see you around the world, as one of the greatest ideas in human history, right up there with the Renaissance, right up there with crop rotations and the Beatles’ White album. The idea, the American idea—it’s an idea—the idea is that you and me are created equal, and will ensure that an economic recession need not become an equality rescission. The idea that life is not meant to be endured but enjoyed. The idea that if we have dignity, if we have justice then leave it to us, and we’ll do the rest. This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. And God love you for it, because these aren’t just American ideas anymore. There’s no copyright on them. You brought them into the world. It’s a wide world now. I know Americans say they have a bit of the world in them, and you do, the family tree has lots of branches. But the thing is, the world has a built of America in it, too. These truths, your truths, they’re self-evident in us.”
Musician and activist Bono at Georgetown University on Nov. 12, 2012


So celebrate the 4th of July with all the fun and fireworks, and remember why it’s such a remarkable day: We rest on the foundation of an idea, written in blood, The Declaration of Independence.