Official acts that colonists considered infringements upon their rights had previously led to the Stamp Act Congress (1765) and to the First Continental Congress (1774), but these were predominantly conservative assemblies that sought redress from the crown and reconciliation, not independence. The overtures of the First Continental Congress in 1774 came to nothing, discontent grew, and as the armed skirmishes at Lexington and Concord (Apr. 19, 1775) developed into the American Revolution, many members of the Second Continental Congress of Philadelphia followed the leadership of John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams in demanding independence.
The delegates from Virginia and North Carolina were in fact specifically instructed on independence and on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee called for a resolution of independence. On June 11, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman were instructed to draft such a declaration; the actual writing was entrusted to Jefferson. The first draft was revised by Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson before it was sent to Congress, where it was again changed. That final draft was adopted July 4, 1776, and Independence Day has been the chief American patriotic holiday ever since. It is interesting to note, however, that the July 4 document is merely a fuller statement justifying the resolution of independence adopted by Congress July 2, 1776.
The Declaration of Independence is the most important of all American historical documents. It is essentially a partisan document, a justification of the American Revolution presented to the world; but its unique combination of general principles and an abstract theory of government with a detailed enumeration of specific grievances and injustices has given it enduring power as one of the great political documents of the West. After stating its purpose, the opening paragraphs (given here in the form used in the engrossed copy) assert the fundamental American ideal of government, based on the theory of natural rights, which had been held by, among others, John Locke, Emerich de Vattel, and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
"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, 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
Then follows an indictment of George III for willfully infringing those rights in order to establish an "absolute Tyranny" over the colonies. The document states that colonial patience had achieved nothing and therefore the colonists found themselves forced to declare their independence. The stirring closing paragraph is the formal pronouncement of independence and is borrowed from the resolution of July 2.
"We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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 connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Not all the men who helped draw up or voted for the Declaration signed it (Robert R. Livingston, for example, did not) nor were all the signers present at its adoption. All the signatures except six (Wythe, R. H. Lee, Wolcott, Gerry, McKean, and Thornton) were affixed on Aug. 2, 1776. The first is that of John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. The remaining 55 (see individual articles on each) are those of Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery, Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott, William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross, Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton.
See studies by J. H. Hazelton (1906, repr. 1970), C. L. Becker (1922, repr. 1962), and F. R. Donovan (1968); D. Malone, The Story of the Declaration of Independence (1954); D. F. Hawke, A Transaction of Free Men (1964, repr. 1989); R. Ginsberg, ed., A Casebook on the Declaration of Independence (1967); G. Wills, Inventing America (1979); J. Fliegelman, Declaring Independence (1993); P. Maier American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1997); J. N. Rakove, ed., The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence (2009).
A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state or states. Such places are usually declared from part or all of the Territory of another nation or failed nation, or are breakaway territories from within the larger state. Not all declarations of independence were successful and resulted in independence for these regions.
Declarations of independence are typically made without the consent of the parent state, and hence are sometimes called unilateral declarations of independence (UDI), particularly by those who question the declarations' validity.
|Region||Declaration||Date||Year||Parent||Signatories||First recognising state|
|Albania||Albanian Declaration of Independence||November 28||1912||Ottoman Empire|
|United Provinces of South America|
|Argentine Declaration of Independence||July 9||1816||Spain||Congress of Tucumán|
|Armenia||Democratic Republic of Armenia||May 28||1918||Ottoman Empire||Armenian Congress of Eastern Armenians Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF Dashnak)||Russia|
|Bangladesh||Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence||1971||Pakistan||India|
|Belarus||Belavezha Accords||December 8||1991||Soviet Union||Presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus||Turkey|
|Belgium||Belgian Declaration of Independence||October 4||1830||Netherlands||Provisional Government of Belgium|
|Brazil||Brazilian Declaration of Independence||September 7||1822||Portugal||Pedro I of Brazil|
|Bulgaria||Bulgarian Declaration of Independence||September 22||1908||Ottoman Empire||Ferdinand of Bulgaria and the Government of Bulgaria|
|Central America||Central American Declaration of Independence||September 15||1821||Spain|
|Chile||Chilean Declaration of Independence||February 12||1818||Spain||National Congress||Portugal|
|Croatia||Croatian Declaration of Independence||June 25||1991||Yugoslavia||Iceland|
|Dominican Republic||Dominican Declaration of Independence||February 27||1844||Haiti|
|East Timor||East Timorese Declaration of Independence||November 28||1975||Portugal||Morocco|
|Estonia||Estonian Declaration of Independence||February 24||1918||Russia||Salvation Committee|
|Estonia||Estonian Confirmation of Independence||August 20||1991||Soviet Union||Congress of Estonia||Iceland|
|Finland||Finland's Declaration of Independence||December 19||1917||Russia||Parliament of Finland|
|Georgia (country)||Georgia's Declaration of Independence||April 9||1991||Soviet Union||Germany|
|Georgia (U.S. state)||Georgia's secession declaration||January 29||1861||United States|
|Guinea-Bissau||Guinea-Bissau Declaration of Independence||September 24||1973||Portugal|
|Haiti||Haitian Declaration of Independence||January 1||1804||France||Jean-Jacques Dessalines|
|Hungary||Hungarian Declaration of Independence||April 17||1848||Austrian Empire|
|Iceland||Icelandic Declaration of Independence||June 17||1944||Denmark|
|India||Indian Declaration of Independence||August 15||1947||United Kingdom||United Kingdom|
|Indonesia||Indonesian Declaration of Independence||August 17||1945||Netherlands||Sukarno & Mohammad Hatta||Egypt|
|Ireland||Proclamation of the Irish Republic||April 24||1916||United Kingdom|| Irish Volunteers|
Irish Citizen Army
|Irish Republic||Irish Declaration of Independence||January 21||1919||United Kingdom||Dáil Éireann||Soviet Union|
|Israel||Israeli Declaration of Independence||May 14||1948||United Kingdom||Jewish People's Council||United States|
|Katanga||Katangan Declaration of Independence||1960||Congo (Léopoldville)|
|Korea||Korean Declaration of Independence||March 1||1919||Japan|
|Kosovo||1990 Kosovo declaration of independence||?||1990||Serbia||Albania|
|Kosovo||Kosovo declaration of Independence||February 17||2008||Serbia||Assembly of Kosovo||Afghanistan|
|Latvia||On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia||May 4||1990||Soviet Union||Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR||Iceland|
|Lithuania||Act of Independence of Lithuania||February 16||1918||Germany||Council of Lithuania||Germany|
|Lithuania||Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania||March 11||1990||Soviet Union||Supreme Council of Lithuania||Iceland|
|Low Countries (the Netherlands)||Act of Abjuration||July 26||1581||Spain|
|Macedonia||Independence of Macedonia||1991||Yugoslavia||Bulgaria|
|Mississippi||A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union||January 9||1861||United States|
|Moldova||Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova||August 27||1991||Soviet Union||Parliament of the Republic of Moldova||Romania|
|Montenegro||Montenegro declaration of independence||June 3||2006||Serbia and Montenegro||Assembly of the Republic of Montenegro||Iceland|
|New Zealand||Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand||1835||United Kingdom||Māori chiefs|
|Northern America (Mexico)||Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of Northern America||November 6||1813||Spain||Congress of Anáhuac|
|Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus||Declaration of Independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus||November 15||1983||Cyprus||Turkey|
|Norway||Constitution of Norway||May 17||1814||Union according to Treaty of Kiel||Constitutional assembly|
|Pakistan||Pakistani Declaration of Independence||August 14||1947||British India||Iran|
|Papua New Guinea||Independence Day||Sept 16||1975||Australia||First Prime Minister: Michael Somare|
|Peru||Act of the Declaration of Independence of Peru||July 28||1821||Spain||José de San Martín|
|Philippines||Philippine Declaration of Independence||June 12||1898||Spain||Emilio Aguinaldo|
|Rhodesia||Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence||November 11||1965||United Kingdom||Ian Smith and the rest of the Cabinet||none|
|Romania||Romanian Declaration of Independence||May 22||1877||Ottoman Empire||King Carol I|
|Russia||Belavezha Accords||December 8||1991||Soviet Union||Presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus|
|Scotland||Declaration of Arbroath||April 6||1320||England||Scottish leaders|
|Singapore||Proclamation of Singapore||August 9||1965||Malaysia||Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore|
|Slovenia||Slovenian Declaration of Independence||June 25||1991||Yugoslavia||Croatia|
|Somaliland||Somaliland Declaration of Independence||1991||Somalia||none|
|South Carolina||Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union||December 24||1860||United States||South Carolinians in Charleston|
|Southern Cameroons||Southern Cameroons Declaration of Independence||December 31||1999||Cameroon||none|
|Texas||Texas Declaration of Independence||March 2||1836||Mexico||France|
|Texas||A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union||February 1||1861||United States||Texas Legislature|
|Ukraine||Declaration of Independence of Ukraine||August 24||1991||Soviet Union||Verkhovna Rada||Poland|
|United States||United States Declaration of Independence||July 4||1776||Great Britain||Second Continental Congress||France|
|Uzbekistan||Declaration of Independence||August 31||1991||Soviet Union||Supreme Council of Uzbekistan||Turkey|
|Venezuela||Venezuelan Declaration of Independence||July 5||1811||Kingdom of Spain||Representatives of the States of Venezuela|
|Vietnam||Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam||September 2||1945||Japan||Hồ Chí Minh||Soviet Union|
In many cases, independence is achieved without a declaration of independence but instead occurs by bilateral agreement. An example of this is the independence of many components of the British Empire, most parts of which achieved independence through negotiation with the United Kingdom government. Australia and Canada, for example, achieved full independence through a series of acts of their respective national parliaments.
On the other hand, regions often achieve de facto independence, but do not declare independence. Notable examples include Taiwan, which China has threatened to invade should it officially declare independence. Iraqi Kurdistan was de facto independent from the central Iraqi government between the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War, but could not declare statehood out of fear of losing international support. Such regions often refer to themselves as autonomous regions, with or without the assent of the central government.