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The Declaration of Independence (1776)

Thomas Jefferson

Key Historical Figures

Context

Summary

Colonies  -  The 13 colonies of British North America included New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. A representative from each colony was sent to the Second Continental Congress in May of 1775 to debate the topic of independence. Although initial disagreement seemed to stall the drive towards independence, by July 2nd, 1776 all 13 colonies committed to fighting in the war for independence.
Thomas Jefferson  -  A plantation owner and a lawyer, Thomas Jefferson was a delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress. After Richard Henry Lee called for independence in June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson was appointed to a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, although his draft was heavily edited by the delegates of the Second Continental Congress. Thomas Jefferson continued as an important figure in early American politics by serving as diplomat to France, Secretary of State, and as the third President of the United States.
King of Great Britain  -  King George III reigned over Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 to 1820. King George III was a descendent of the house of Hanover, a German royal family, but the first of his family to be born and educated as an Englishman. Unlike his predecessors, he aimed to rule strongly over British concerns abroad (such as the colonies) and did so by revoking the policy of salutary neglect that had dominated colonial policy until then. He also attempted to diminish the powers of parliament by frequently appointing new ministers to carry out his policy. This led to political chaos throughout Great Britain, and also contributed to the strict laws imposed on the colonies after 1763.
John Locke  -  John Locke was an English Philosopher who influenced the thoughts and actions of American leaders in the revolutionary era. The author of Two Treatises of Government (1690), Locke attacked the theory of divine right of kings, arguing that the power of the state rested on the power of the people. Locke believed that governments were formed to protect the natural rights of men, and that overthrowing a government that did not protect these rights was not only a right, but also an obligation. His thoughts influenced many revolutionary pamphlets and documents, including the Virginia Constitution of 1776, and the Declaration of Independence. Additionally, his ideas about checks and balances and the division of church and state were later embodied in the U.S. Constitution.
Second Continental Congress  -  The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in May of 1775 because the First Continental Congress had vowed to meet again if its attempts at peace with Great Britain failed. In April 1775, it became clear that the colonies were already in an undeclared war against Great Britain, evidenced by the Battles at Lexington and Concord. The Second Continental Congress had the dual responsibility of coordinating the ongoing defensive war effort in the colonies and debating the question of independence.
Salutary Neglect  -  An unwritten though longstanding British policy of letting slide the many British laws meant to maintain the colonies as economically and politically subordinate to England. King George III wanted to more strongly govern the colonies and put an end to salutary neglect.

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