By 1750, Great Britain was beginning to exert their authority to dictate many aspects in the lives of the American colonists. Over the next twenty-five years, British authority became British oppression which would strain relations with the American colonies to the breaking point.
On April 5, 1764, the British imposed the Sugar Act.
On September 1, 1764, the British imposed the Currency Act.
On March 22, 1765, the British imposed the Stamp Act.
On March 24, 1765, the British imposed the Quartering Act.
On March 18, 1766, the British imposed the Declaratory Act.
On June 29, 1767, the British imposed the Townsend Revenue Act.
On May 10, 1773, the British imposed the Tea Act.
On March 31, 1774, the British imposed the Boston Port Act, the first of the Intolerable Acts.
On May 20, 1774, the British imposed the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act, both part of the Intolerable Acts.
On June 2, 1774, the British imposed another Quartering Act, part of the Intolerable Acts.
On June 22, 1774, the British imposed the Quebec Act, one of the Intolerable Acts.
Add in events like the Boston Massacre, Gaspee Affair and the ‘shot heard around the world,’ talk of independence from Great Britain began to spread, even though to do so was tantamount to treason in the eyes of the British.
On May 28, 1775, the Committee of Safety in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, drafted and signed the Mecklenburg Resolves which called for independence from Great Britain. This is considered the first formal declaration for independence drafted in the thirteen colonies.
On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island became the first colony to formally declare its independence from Great Britain. The leaders in Rhode Island were tired of waiting for the Continental Congress to make such a declaration. Ironically, they were the last colony to ratify the US Constitution as they were not certain if they wanted to be part of the United States or their own tiny independent nation.
A growing number of delegates at the Continental Congress were calling for a unified declaration of independence from Great Britain. No one really wanted to go on record as being the first person to be guilty of treason by introducing an independence measure.
On June 7, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee, found the courage and patriotism to do what no one else would dare do. Lee wrote a resolution calling for a declaration of independence from Great Britain and introduced it before the Second Continental Congress.
Not all of the delegates favored such a resolution so any vote on Lee’s Resolution was delayed until July 1, 1776. During the rest of June, delegates from six colonies; Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, went home to confer with their constituents about how to vote on the issue of independence.
At the same time, a committee of five, consisting of John Adams (Massachusetts), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), Robert R. Livingston (New York) and Roger Sherman (Connecticut) was selected to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain.
On June 28 1776, Jefferson’s draft was presented to the Continental Congress, but the only action taken was to debate the terms of the declaration.
On July 1, 1776, the Second Continental Congress resumed debate on Lee’s Resolution. Verbally, it seemed that most of the delegates favored Lee’s Resolution, but they delayed the formal vote for another day in order to make sure it was a unanimous vote.
On this day, July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted on Lee’s Resolution. Twelve of the 13 colonial delegations voted yes, while New York’s delegation abstained. They were not sure if the people of New York were in favor of declaring independence or not.
John Adams believed that July 2, 1776 would be a ‘most memorable epoch in the history of America.’ Some historians still believe that America’s original Independence Day is July 2, 1776, the day of the vote on Lee’s Resolution to declare independence.
However, July 2, 1776 quickly faded into obscurity due to the final formal vote on Lee’s Resolution being delayed for 2 more days. This gave Jefferson time to make some editorial changes to the final draft which was agreed upon on July 4, 1776.
Sources for the above includes: Lee Resolution; Today, June 7, 1776: Resolution that Led to the Declaration of Independence; Congress Votes for Independence; On This Day: Continental Congress Votes to Declare Independence From Britain; 10 Things You Might Not Know About America’s Independence; Why July 2 is really America’s independence day; Did You Know…Independence Day Should Actually Be July 2?