Approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence declared the 13 American colonies independent from England. Independent was formally declared on July 4, 1776, and the Declaration was signed August 2, 1776.
The Declaration of Independence was written by a five-member committee within the Continental Congress; the committee members included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman. The document was primarily based on Jefferson's draft of the preamble to the Virginia Constitution and George Mason’s draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. The Declaration was first read publicly on July 8, 1776, in Philadelphia.
As of 2015, there are 26 original copies of the Declaration of Independence known to still exist, according to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. These copies, known as the Dunlap broadside, were printed on July 4, the same date the original was adopted. Various American institutions own 21 of these 26 copies, while British institutions own two and private owners own three.
The first member of the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration was the President of the Congress, John Hancock. The Declaration was signed by 56 people in total, eight of whom were born in Britain. One signer, Richard Stockton of New Jersey, renounced his signature of the Declaration and swore allegiance to King George III after being captured by the British. After securing his freedom, Stockton pledged allegiance once again to New Jersey.