Who Wrote The Declaration of Independence?
Understanding who wrote The Declaration of Independence can help us understand the purpose behind the document.
Congress created a five man committee in June of 1776 to create The Declaration of Independence in case the Continental Congress decided to declare independence from Great Britain. The five man committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman and Benjamin Franklin.
Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson had a gift for writing public documents and was assigned the task of chief draft writer for The Declaration of Independence. Despite becoming the third president of the United States and making the largest land purchase in United States History, Jefferson’s most important contribution to the United States is his original draft of The Declaration of Independence. The introduction of the final draft of the Declaration contains mostly Jefferson’s words, although Jefferson himself borrowed ideas from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government and George Mason’s Declaration of the Rights of Virginia. The five man committee as well as Congress felt much of the remaining document was too harsh, and in some places, too wordy. They changed it accordingly, much to Jefferson’s chagrin.
John Adams: Adams was an outspoken supporter of American Independence. Adams, the second president of the United States, and Jefferson became bitter political rivals who debated frequently over the role of the president. Modern politicians would do well to remember that the country was founded by men who often carried strikingly different political views, who, despite their differences, created a free and independent nation.
Robert R. Livingston: Livingston wished to delay independence in order to represent his New York constituency who favored a continued union with Great Britain. Livingston understood, however, that he was in the minority. Despite being on the committee to write the Declaration, Livingston was recalled to New York and never actually signed the document. Livingston continued his political career, administering the oath of office to George Washington in 1789 and being one of the key negotiators under Thomas Jefferson for the Louisiana Purchase.
Roger Sherman: Although not nearly as famous as other founding fathers, Roger Sherman was deeply admired by his more famous contemporaries, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison. Sherman served as a United States senator until his death in 1792 after the constitution was ratified.
Benjamin Franklin: Franklin was easily the most respected and honored member of the committee but attended only a few committee meetings due to illness. His position on the Declaration’s committee was one of many of Franklin’s patriotic duties.
Who Signed The Declaration of Independence?
There were 56 men who signed The Declaration of Independence and “pledged to each other [their] lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred honor.”
- Signers of the Declaration of Independence include two future presidents–Jefferson and Adams.
- Twenty-four of the fifty-six signers of The Declaration of Independence had been educated and employed in law.
- Eleven were merchants and nine were large plantation owners.
- The signers of The Declaration of Independence came from diverse religious backgrounds. They set differences aside in order to create an independent nation. This spirit of religious tolerance has been a hallmark throughout American history.
- Nine died during the Revolutionary War.
- Twelve had their homes ransacked or destroyed during the war.
- When the British overran New Jersey, Declaration signer John Hart had his home looted. His wife died in October of 1776 as a result. He invited over 12,000 soldiers to camp on his yard in 1778 in the middle of growing season as they prepared for battle.
- Thomas Nelson’s home served as headquarters for General Cornwallis during the siege of Yorktown. Legend has it that he advised George Washington to fire on it. The home was destroyed.
- Several leading figures of the Continental Congress, including its first signer, John Hancock, had special rewards placed on them for their capture. That did not, however, prevent Hancock from signing the Declaration first.
It is apparent that the signers of The Declaration of Independence were more than just self serving politicians, making decisions based on political expediency, but were men of honor who risked everything to sign the Declaration.
This post is part of the series: The Declaration of Independence Study Guide
- Summary and Analysis of The Declaration of Independence
- Why was The Declaration of Independence Written? Quotes & Explanation
- Significant Quotes from The Declaration of Independence
- What They Don't Teach You at School: Interesting Facts on the Declaration of Independence
- Who Wrote The Declaration of Independence and Other Facts