Q. 63: When Was the Declaration of Independence Adopted?

United States flag
The Continental Congress declared its freedom from Great Britain on July 2, 1776.

To pass the US citizenship test, you will have to answer 10 of a possible 100 questions. The following question is from the USCIS test.

When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

Answer:

July 4, 1776.

The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:

This question is on the exam because the answer is Independence Day – the day of the year when Americans celebrate gaining freedom from the rule of Great Britain. However, there are some misconceptions about this date and the long process of gaining independence. Therefore, it helps to understand better the chronology of the period, from the creation of the document to its adoption, signing, and the vital Treaty of Paris. 

Adopted, Not Declared

The phrasing of the question is important as it says adopted, not declared. There is a lengthy timeline of events from the first idea of drafting and making a Declaration of Independence to the moment it was adopted. It took time for the document to be drafted and signed. What’s more, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence does not equate to the nation gaining independence. It would take a long war and a major international treaty for that to happen. 

Drafting the Declaration

July 4th, 1776, is when Congress adopted the finished draft of the Declaration of Independence. This was the version that the Founding Fathers were satisfied with after a series of revisions. The editing process was necessary because those important representatives could make sure that the sentiments and language were appropriate for such a significant declaration.

The original draft was mainly the work of Thomas Jefferson. Congress brought together a committee of intelligent representatives of different states to work on the text of the declaration. This began on June 11th, and, over the month, Jefferson would end up being persuaded to take on the bulk of the work. He wrote a draft based on the Virginian Constitution and the works of his favorite philosophers. Eventually, with edits from the other four committee members – including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams – they had a “fair copy” ready by June 27th. 

July 2nd vs. July 4th

The date that the finished Declaration of Independence was adopted and the date that independence was declared are not the same. The infamous date of July 4th relates to when the revised declaration was made official and adopted by Congress. This meant that they could move forward in pushing for independence and gaining concessions from the British. However, there was a more symbolic moment of declaration two days prior on July 2nd as the British arrived in New York.

At the time, this broader timeline led to some conflicting opinions over the likely date of a national celebration. July 4th has always been Independence Day, ever since the first celebrations in 1777. Yet, some, such as John Adams, believed the date of the declaration rather than official adoption was the better choice. 

Either way, this three-day period in Congress was a game-changer for the war and the nation’s prospects. After formally adopting the document, Congress commissioned a series of printed versions to be sent out to government buildings and the troops on the front line. This led to General George Washington reading the Declaration of Independence to his troops in New York, in front of the British, on July 9th. 

Engrossing and Signing the Official Declaration of Independence

The creation of the Dunlap Broadsides was necessary for the war effort as it allowed for significant public declarations such as Washington’s recital. Some of these copies remain and are treasured. However, they weren’t suitable for an official copy of the declaration. There had to be something more decorative and appropriate for Congress to sign.

So, on July 19th, 1776, Congress ordered an assistant of a representative to handwrite the official engrossed version of the declaration. This took a while to complete, but soon enough, there was a parchment copy with attractive, legible handwriting and space for all the necessary signatures. The members of Congress then signed this on August 2nd.

This engrossed copy is the most important version and the one on display at the National Archives. The formal signing reinforced the importance of the document and the nation’s intentions moving forward. The country would continue to fight the American Revolutionary War against the British to make independence a reality. This all came to an end in 1783.

The Treaty of Paris 1783

For the United States to fully gain its independence, Great Britain had to sign that it acknowledged this status and then end the war. This happened in 1783 in Paris, where delegates from both sides met to discuss terms and finally put pen to paper. The British side consisted of those delegated by the King, with American delegation including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay.

The treaty determined that the British would acknowledge the thirteen colonies of the United States as free and independent from British rule. At the same time, borders and agreements were drawn that allowed for a clear boundary and the freedom to expand west. There were then additional clauses about final financial details and aspects of the relationship between the two nations.

The two sides signed the treaty on September 3rd, essentially making independence official and ending the war. However, Congress and the King still had to ratify it to be entirely legal. On January 14th, 1784, Congress did so, while King George III waited until long after the deadline and signed on April 9th, 1784.

When Did America Adopt the Declaration of Independence?

Therefore, while July 4th, 1776, is the correct answer for the date that America adopted the Declaration of Independence, there is more to the story. It is a good idea to get a broader sense of the history of the period to chart the nation’s course from the declaration up to the moment they were officially set free. 

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