Declaration of Independence adopted

The Declaration of Independence - adopted July 4, 1776 - not only announced the birth of a new nation. It set forth philosophy of human freedom which was thenceforth to be dynamic force in the entire western world. It rested, not upon particular grievances, but upon a broad basis of individual liberty which could command general support throughout America, and its political philosophy is clear:

"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 a 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."

"These truths" were not creatures of Jefferson's mind; they formed a political theory "self-evident" to his contemporaries and to most men since. The sources of his particular thinking and phraseology lay in the work of English political philosophers, specifically James Harrington's Oceana and, even more important, John Locke's Second Treatise On Government. But the source of the spirit of the document was the awakening consciousness of men that government should exist for the people, not the people for the government. To Jefferson, it was the function and purpose of government to help men - to protect them in their life, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness - not to oppress them or misuse them.

The Declaration of Independence served a purpose far beyond that of a public notice of separation. Its ideas inspired mass fervor for the American cause, for it instilled among ordinary folk a sense of their own importance, inspiring them to struggle for personal freedom, self-government, and a dignified place in society. And, by centering its attention on an indictment of the English king, George III, the Declaration made the conflict a personal contest - not a protest against lifeless statutes and an abstract Parliament, but a struggle against an immediate enemy of flesh and blood. By giving to the common man a personal cause and a personal enemy, the ideas of the Declaration brought the Revolution within range of popular aspiration and strengthened it with the force of popular emotion.

Colorful pennants were raised and festive colonists joined in celebrations marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia July 4, 1776.
The Revolutionary War dragged on for over six years, with fighting in every colony and a dozen pitched battles of importance. Even before the Declaration of Independence, there were military operations which had an important influence on the outcome of the war - for instance the crushing of the North Carolina loyalists in February of 1776, and in March the forced evacuation of British forces from Boston. In the months following Independence, the Americans suffered a series of severe setbacks. The first of these was in New York. Washington rightly foretold that New York, which was important in keeping New England supplied with material and reinforcements, would be an early British military objective. The British commander, General Sir William Howe, did not at once press against it, however. Friendly to America, he brought an olive branch as well as a sword and offered the King's clemency to the rebels if they would stop fighting. He could not, however, give a guarantee of liberty within the empire. His offer naturally was rejected, and 30,000 British soldiers and the British navy opposed Washington's land force of 18,000 men.