All of them believed that people have certain unalienable and inherent rights that come from God, not government, or come simply from being human. They also believed that when people form governments, they give those governments control over certain natural rights to ensure the safety and security of other rights. Jefferson, George Mason, and the other Founders frequently spoke of the same set of rights as being natural and unalienable. As members of the Continental Congress contemplated independence in May and June of , many colonies were dissolving their charters with England. As the actual vote on independence approached, a few colonies were issuing their own declarations of independence and bills of rights.
When Jefferson wrote his famous preamble, he was restating, in more eloquent language, the philosophy of natural rights expressed in the Virginia Declaration that the Founders embraced. The Declaration of Independence was a propaganda document rather than a legal one.
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It was an advertisement about why the colonists were breaking away from England. What is the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? In the years between and , most of the 13 states drafted constitutions that contained a declaration of rights within the body of the document or as a separate provision at the beginning, many of them listing the same natural rights that Jefferson had embraced in the Declaration.
When it came time to form a central government in , the Continental Congress began to create a weak union governed by the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation was sent to the states for ratification in ; it was formally adopted in But the Articles of Confederation proved too weak for bringing together a fledgling nation that needed both to wage war and to manage the economy. As a result, Madison and others gathered in Philadelphia in with the goal of creating a stronger, but still limited, federal government.
After four months of debate, the delegates produced a constitution. During the final days of debate, delegates George Mason and Elbridge Gerry objected that the Constitution, too, should include a bill of rights to protect the fundamental liberties of the people against the newly empowered president and Congress. Their motion was swiftly—and unanimously—defeated; a debate over what rights to include could go on for weeks, and the delegates were tired and wanted to go home. The Constitution was approved by the Constitutional Convention and sent to the states for ratification without a bill of rights.
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During the ratification process, which took around 10 months the Constitution took effect when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify in late June ; the 13th state, Rhode Island, would not join the union until May , many state ratifying conventions proposed amendments specifying the rights that Jefferson had recognized in the Declaration and that they protected in their own state constitutions. James Madison and other supporters of the Constitution initially resisted the need for a bill of rights as either unnecessary because the federal government was granted no power to abridge individual liberty or dangerous since it implied that the federal government had the power to infringe liberty in the first place.
In the face of a groundswell of popular demand for a bill of rights, Madison changed his mind and introduced a bill of rights in Congress on June 8, Congress approved 12 amendments to be sent to the states for ratification. Only 10 of the amendments were ultimately ratified in and became the Bill of Rights.
The first of the two amendments that failed was intended to guarantee small congressional districts to ensure that representatives remained close to the people. The other would have prohibited senators and representatives from giving themselves a pay raise unless it went into effect at the start of the next Congress. This latter amendment was finally ratified in and became the 27th Amendment. But the protections in the Bill of Rights—forbidding Congress from abridging free speech, for example, or conducting unreasonable searches and seizures—were largely ignored by the courts for the first years after the Bill of Rights was ratified in Like the preamble to the Declaration, the Bill of Rights was largely a promissory note.
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The Bill of Rights became a document that defends not only majorities of the people against an overreaching federal government but also minorities against overreaching state governments. Today, there are debates over whether the federal government has become too powerful in threatening fundamental liberties.
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There are also debates about how to protect the least powerful in society against the tyranny of local majorities. What do we know about the documentary history of the rare copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights on display at the National Constitution Center?
Generally, when people think about the original Declaration, they are referring to the official engrossed —or final—copy now in the National Archives. That is the one that John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and most of the other members of the Second Continental Congress signed, state by state, on August 2, John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer, published the official printing of the Declaration ordered by Congress, known as the Dunlap Broadside, on the night of July 4th and the morning of July 5th. About copies are believed to have been printed.
At least 27 are known to survive. Stone, whom then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned in to create a precise facsimile of the original engrossed version of the Declaration. That manuscript had become faded and worn after nearly 45 years of travel with Congress between Philadelphia, New York City, and eventually Washington, D. To ensure that future generations would have a clear image of the original Declaration, William Stone made copies of the document before it faded away entirely.
Historians dispute how Stone rendered the facsimiles. He kept the original Declaration in his shop for up to three years and may have used a process that involved taking a wet cloth, putting it on the original document, and creating a perfect copy by taking off half the ink. He would have then put the ink on a copper plate to do the etching though he might have, instead, traced the entire document by hand without making a press copy.
Stone used the copper plate to print first edition engravings as well as one copy for himself in , selling the plate and the engravings to the State Department. John Quincy Adams sent copies to each of the living signers of the Declaration there were three at the time , public officials like President James Monroe, Congress, other executive departments, governors and state legislatures, and official repositories such as universities.
The Stone engravings give us the clearest idea of what the original engrossed Declaration looked like on the day it was signed. The Constitution, too, has an original engrossed, handwritten version as well as a printing of the final document. John Dunlap, who also served as the official printer of the Declaration, and his partner David C. At the end of the day on September 15, , after all of the delegations present had approved the Constitution, the convention ordered it engrossed on parchment.
Jacob Shallus, assistant clerk to the Pennsylvania legislature, spent the rest of the weekend preparing the engrossed copy now in the National Archives , while Dunlap and Claypoole were ordered to print copies of the final text for distribution to the delegates, Congress, and the states. Approximately twenty thousand colonial militiamen laid siege to Boston, effectively trapping the British. While men in Boston fought and died, the Continental Congress struggled to organize a response.
The radical Massachusetts delegates—including John Adams, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock—implored the Congress to support the Massachusetts militia, who without supplies were laying siege to Boston.
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Meanwhile, many delegates from the Middle Colonies—including New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia—took a more moderate position, calling for renewed attempts at reconciliation. The moderates worried that supporting the Massachusetts militia would be akin to declaring war. The Congress struck a compromise, agreeing to adopt the Massachusetts militia and form a Continental Army, naming Virginia delegate George Washington commander in chief.
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In the opening months of , independence, for the first time, became part of the popular debate. Town meetings throughout the colonies approved resolutions in support of independence. Yet, with moderates still hanging on, it would take another seven months before the Continental Congress officially passed the independence resolution. A small forty-six-page pamphlet published in Philadelphia and written by a recent immigrant from England captured the American conversation. Arguments over political philosophy and rumors of battlefield developments filled taverns throughout the colonies.
George Washington had taken control of the army and after laying siege to Boston forced the British to retreat to Halifax. Former slaves occasionally fought, but primarily served in companies called Black Pioneers as laborers, skilled workers, and spies. British motives for offering freedom were practical rather than humanitarian, but the proclamation was the first mass emancipation of enslaved people in American history. Slaves could now choose to run and risk their lives for possible freedom with the British army or hope that the United States would live up to its ideals of liberty.
Four years earlier, English courts dealt a serious blow to slavery in the empire. In Somerset v Stewart , James Somerset sued for his freedom, and the court not only granted it but also undercut the very legality of slavery on the British mainland. Somerset and now Dunmore began to convince some slave owners that a new independent nation might offer a surer protection for slavery. Indeed, the proclamation laid the groundwork for the very unrest that loyal southerners had hoped to avoid.
Consequently, slaveholders often used violence to prevent their slaves from joining the British or rising against them. Virginia enacted regulations to prevent slave defection, threatening to ship rebellious slaves to the West Indies or execute them. Many masters transported their enslaved people inland, away from the coastal temptation to join the British armies, sometimes separating families in the process.
On May 10, , nearly two months before the Declaration of Independence, the Congress voted on a resolution calling on all colonies that had not already established revolutionary governments to do so and to wrest control from royal officials. A few weeks later, on June 7, Richard Henry Lee offered the following resolution:. 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 connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Delegates went scurrying back to their assemblies for new instructions and nearly a month later, on July 2, the resolution finally came to a vote. It passed 12—0, with New York, under imminent threat of British invasion, abstaining. Virginian Thomas Jefferson drafted the document, with edits being made by his fellow committee members John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, and then again by the Congress as a whole. 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. The majority of the document outlined a list of specific grievances that the colonists had with British attempts to reform imperial administration during the s and s.
An early draft blamed the British for the transatlantic slave trade and even for discouraging attempts by the colonists to promote abolition. Delegates from South Carolina and Georgia as well as those from northern states who profited from the trade all opposed this language, and it was removed. Neither the grievances nor the rhetoric of the preamble were new.
The Congress approved the document on July 4, However, it was one thing to declare independence; it was quite another to win it on the battlefield. The war began at Lexington and Concord, more than a year before Congress declared independence. In , the British believed that the mere threat of war and a few minor incursions to seize supplies would be enough to cow the colonial rebellion. Those minor incursions, however, turned into a full-out military conflict.