Declaration of Independence Lesson: Definition, Summary, Events, and Important Dates

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Lesson Overview

Learning Objectives

  • Learn the purpose, significance, and key principles of the Declaration of Independence.
  • Recognize the authors, timeline, and major events leading to the adoption of the Declaration.
  • Understand the main sections, natural rights, and complaints against King George III outlined in the Declaration.
  • Evaluate the immediate and long-term effects on American colonies, different groups, and global influence.
  • Understand the challenges faced by the signers, the importance of equality, and the Declaration's role in shaping American identity and legal argument

Introduction to the Course

A sweltering summer day in 1776, and 56 determined men gather in a hot room in Philadelphia. The date is July 4, 1776, a day that will change history forever. These men, known as the signers of the Declaration of Independence, are risking everything for freedom. The room buzzes with excitement as they prepare to sign their names, the Declaration of Independence signatures that will boldly declare America's desire to break free from British rule.

In this lesson, you will explore the fascinating story behind the Declaration of Independence and the significance of its date. You'll learn why it was written, who the brave signers were, and the powerful ideas it contains. You will also learn the Declaration of Independence in summary and how it shaped America.

Declaration of Independence Timeline 

What Is the Declaration of Independence?

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in American history. Written in 1776, it declared that the American colonies wanted to be free and independent from British rule. This document told the world why the colonies were breaking away and what they believed in. It is famous for its powerful words that say everyone has the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This means that every person should be free to live their own life, be happy, and make their own choices without interference from others.

The Declaration of Independence also listed the reasons why the colonies wanted to separate from Britain. They felt that the British King was treating them unfairly and not respecting their rights. By declaring their independence, the American colonies were taking a stand for their freedom and their future.

Who Wrote the Declaration of Independence?

The Declaration of Independence was written by a group of leaders from the American colonies, known as the Committee of Five. The main writer was Thomas Jefferson, who was chosen for his excellent writing skills. However, he did not work alone. He was helped by four other important men: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. These men were all respected leaders and thinkers of their time.

  • Thomas Jefferson: A brilliant writer and thinker from Virginia, Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration. He used his talent with words to clearly express the colonies' desire for freedom.
  • John Adams: A leader from Massachusetts, Adams was a strong supporter of independence. He helped shape the ideas in the Declaration and supported Jefferson in his writing.
  • Benjamin Franklin: One of the most famous men in the colonies, Franklin was from Pennsylvania. He was known for his wisdom and experience, and he made important contributions to the document.
  • Roger Sherman: From Connecticut, Sherman was a well-respected leader and brought practical insights to the committee.
  • Robert R. Livingston: Representing New York, Livingston was a diplomat and politician who helped ensure the Declaration was a united statement from all the colonies.

These five men worked together to draft the Declaration, combining their ideas and skills to create a document that would inspire people then and for generations to come.

Key Dates 💡

June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee's Proposal

On this day, Richard Henry Lee, a leader from Virginia, made a bold proposal to the Continental Congress. He suggested that the American colonies should declare their independence from Britain. This was a daring idea because it meant the colonies would be breaking away completely and standing on their own. Lee's proposal was a crucial first step toward independence.

June 11, 1776: Formation of the Committee of Five 

A few days after Lee's proposal, the Continental Congress, which was a meeting of leaders from all the colonies, decided they needed a special document to explain their decision to the world. They chose five men to write this document: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. These men became known as the Committee of Five.

What Are the Main Sections of the Declaration of Independence?

The Declaration of Independence is divided into several important sections, each with its own purpose and message. Here is an overview of the main parts:


This is the introduction to the Declaration of Independence. The preamble explains why the document was written. It states that when people want to form a new country, they should explain the reasons for doing so. It sets the stage for the rest of the document by introducing the idea that the colonies need to justify their decision to separate from Britain.

Statement of Human Rights

This section outlines the basic rights that all people should have. It famously states that "all men are created equal" and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, which include "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These rights are considered natural rights, meaning they are inherent and cannot be taken away. This part of the Declaration emphasizes that governments are established to protect these rights.

Charges Against King George III

This part lists the grievances or complaints against the King of Britain, King George III. It details all the ways in which the King has wronged the American colonies. This section is a long list of specific actions that the King has taken that the colonists believe are unfair and oppressive. It includes things like imposing taxes without consent, depriving them of trial by jury, and maintaining a standing army in peacetime without the consent of the people.

Statement of Separation

In this section, the colonies declare that they are now free and independent states. It states that they are no longer part of Britain and have the power to make their own laws, form alliances, and trade with other nations. This is the actual declaration of independence, where the colonies break all political ties with Britain.


The Declaration ends with the signatures of the members of the Continental Congress. These signatures show that the representatives of the colonies agreed with everything in the document and were willing to stand by it. The signers of the Declaration of Independence put their lives at risk because by signing, they were committing an act of treason against Britain. The most famous signature is that of John Hancock, who signed first and with a large, bold signature.

Key Dates 💡

June 12-27, 1776

During these days, Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. He worked carefully to put all the important ideas and reasons for independence into words. Jefferson's draft was reviewed and edited by the Committee of Five.

June 28, 1776

The Committee of Five, which included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, presented the draft to the Continental Congress. They reviewed Jefferson's work and made sure it represented their collective thoughts.

July 1-4, 1776

The Continental Congress debated and revised the Declaration. They discussed its contents and made changes to ensure it was strong and clear. By July 4, they were ready to adopt it, making it official.

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What Are the Key Principles Stated in the Declaration of Independence?

There are 4 key principles stated in the declaration of Independence:

  • Equality: The Declaration states that "all men are created equal." This means that everyone should have the same rights and opportunities, no matter who they are. This idea was revolutionary at the time and has continued to inspire movements for equality throughout history.
  • Natural Rights: The Declaration says that everyone has certain rights just because they are human. These rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are considered unalienable, meaning they cannot be taken away by anyone. The idea of natural rights was influenced by Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke.
  • Government by Consent: The Declaration explains that governments are created to protect people's rights. The power of the government comes from the consent of the governed, meaning the people agree to be ruled by it. If the government fails to protect their rights, the people have the right to change or get rid of it. This idea supports the concept of democracy and self-governance.
  • Right to Revolution: It states that if a government is not protecting the people's rights, the people have the right to overthrow it and create a new one that will protect their rights. This principle justified the American colonies' decision to break away from Britain and establish their own government.

Natural Rights in the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence has a famous part that talks about natural rights. These are rights that everyone has just because they are alive. The key natural rights mentioned in the Declaration are:

  • Life: Everyone has the right to live and to be safe from harm. This means that individuals have the right to protect their own lives and to seek safety and security.
  • Liberty: Everyone has the right to be free and make their own choices. Liberty includes the freedom to think, speak, and act according to one's own will, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.
  • Pursuit of Happiness: Everyone has the right to try to be happy and to follow their own dreams and goals. This means that individuals have the freedom to seek out what makes them happy, whether it is through work, relationships, or other activities.

The Declaration says that these rights are given to all people by their Creator and cannot be taken away. It also says that the main job of a government is to protect these rights. If a government does not protect these rights, the people have the right to change or replace it with a better one. This idea was very new and powerful at the time and has continued to influence ideas about freedom and human rights all over the world.

What Were the Complaints Against King George III in the Declaration of Independence?

The Declaration of Independence contains a list of grievances, or complaints, against King George III. These grievances explain why the American colonies wanted to break away from British rule. Here are some of the main complaints in more detail:

  • Unfair Laws: The British government passed laws that taxed the colonists without their consent. One example is the Stamp Act, which taxed paper goods like newspapers and legal documents. Another example is the Townshend Acts, which taxed items such as tea, glass, and paint. The colonists believed these taxes were unfair because they had no representatives in the British Parliament to voice their concerns or influence decisions. This led to the famous phrase "no taxation without representation."
  • Dissolving Local Governments: King George III frequently dissolved colonial assemblies and local governments that opposed his policies. This meant that the colonists lost their ability to govern themselves and make decisions that affected their daily lives. By shutting down these assemblies, the King prevented the colonists from having a say in their own governance.
  • Keeping Standing Armies: The King kept British soldiers stationed in the colonies even during times of peace. The colonists were forced to provide housing and supplies for these soldiers, which they found burdensome and intrusive. The presence of a standing army in peacetime was seen as a threat to their liberty and a way for the King to enforce his will through military power.
  • Interfering with Justice: The King interfered with the colonial justice system by manipulating judges and controlling the courts. This made it difficult for the colonists to receive fair trials and justice. By controlling the judiciary, the King ensured that his laws and policies were upheld, even if they were unjust.
  • Trade Restrictions: The British government imposed strict regulations on colonial trade, making it difficult for the colonies to trade with other countries. This hurt the colonial economy and made the colonists feel trapped under British control. These trade restrictions limited the colonies' economic freedom and ability to prosper.
  • Ignoring Petitions: The colonists sent many petitions to the King, asking for their grievances to be addressed. Despite these efforts, the King ignored their petitions and continued to enforce oppressive policies. The colonists felt that they had exhausted all peaceful means of resolving their issues with the British government.

These grievances show that the colonists believed the King was abusing his power and violating their rights. They felt they had no choice but to declare independence to protect their freedoms and ensure their well-being.

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How Did the Declaration of Independence Justify the Colonies' Separation From Britain?

The Declaration of Independence justified the colonies' separation from Britain by asserting that all people have unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It argued that the British government had violated these rights through oppressive policies and unjust laws. The document stated that when a government becomes destructive to these ends, the people have the right to alter or abolish it and establish a new government.Here's how the document made its case:

  • Right to Self-Government: The Declaration states that governments are created to protect people's natural rights, which include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When a government fails to protect these rights, the people have the right to alter or abolish it and form a new government. The colonists believed that the British government was no longer protecting their rights and that they had the right to establish their own government.
  • Repeated Injuries and Usurpations: The Declaration lists the many ways in which King George III had harmed the colonies. These repeated injuries and usurpations, or abuses of power, demonstrated that the King was acting as a tyrant. This included imposing taxes without consent, dissolving colonial legislatures, and maintaining a standing army in peacetime without the consent of the people. The colonists felt that these actions violated their rights and justified their decision to seek independence.
  • Efforts to Address Grievances: The colonists had tried to address their grievances peacefully. They had sent petitions to the King and Parliament asking for relief from oppressive laws and policies. These petitions were ignored or met with further harm. This showed that the British government was not willing to listen to or address the colonists' concerns. The failure of these peaceful efforts made the colonists believe that independence was their only option.
  • Right to Revolution: Based on the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment, particularly those of John Locke, the Declaration argues that when a government becomes destructive of the people's rights, it is not only the right but the duty of the people to overthrow it. The colonists believed that they were justified in seeking independence because the British government was violating their natural rights and acting as a tyrannical force. The right to revolution was seen as a necessary step to protect their freedoms.

By presenting these arguments, the Declaration of Independence aimed to show the world that the colonies had valid reasons for seeking independence and that their decision was based on principles of justice and rights.

Key Dates 💡

July 2, 1776

The Continental Congress votes in favor of Richard Henry Lee's resolution for independence. This was a crucial step in the process, as it marked the official decision of the colonies to seek independence from Britain. The vote was a momentous event, showing that the representatives of the colonies were united in their desire for freedom.

July 4, 1776

The Continental Congress officially adopts the Declaration of Independence. This is the date celebrated as Independence Day in the United States. On this day, the Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration, making it the official statement of the colonies' intention to become independent states. The document was then printed and distributed to the public, announcing the birth of a new nation.

Impact of the Declaration of Independence on the American Colonies

When the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, it had immediate and powerful effects on the American colonies. Here are some key points to understand:

  • United the Colonies: The Declaration brought the thirteen colonies together with a common goal. Before this, the colonies were separate entities with different governments and interests. By declaring independence, they collectively asserted their desire to form a new nation. This unity was crucial for the success of the Revolutionary War against Britain. The Declaration made it clear that they were no longer individual colonies but a united front seeking freedom.
  • Inspired the Colonists: The bold words of the Declaration inspired many colonists to join the fight for independence. It gave them hope and a clear reason to continue their struggle. Phrases like "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" resonated deeply. These ideas of liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness motivated people to take action and support the cause of independence. It provided a moral justification for the war and rallied support among the colonists.
  • Created a New Government: The Declaration laid the groundwork for creating a new government based on the principles of democracy and individual rights. It emphasized that the government's power comes from the consent of the governed, meaning the people have the right to choose their leaders. This was a radical shift from the monarchical rule they were under. It set the stage for the development of the United States Constitution and the democratic government that followed. The Declaration's principles influenced the creation of a government that respected individual rights and allowed for representation and participation by the people.

Impact of the Declaration of Independence on Different Groups

The Declaration of Independence was received differently by various groups within the colonies. Here are the perspectives of three main groups:


The Patriots were colonists who supported independence from Britain. They celebrated the Declaration with great enthusiasm. For them, it was a symbol of freedom and justice. They believed that breaking away from Britain was necessary to protect their rights and create a better future. Many Patriots took to the streets, held public readings, and organized celebrations. The Declaration validated their struggles and sacrifices, giving them renewed energy to continue fighting for their cause.


The Loyalists were colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown. They opposed the Declaration and the idea of independence. Loyalists feared that breaking away from Britain would lead to chaos and economic hardship. They were often wealthier individuals or had strong ties to the British government. Many Loyalists faced harassment and persecution from Patriots for their beliefs. Some were even forced to flee their homes or relocate to areas still under British control. The Declaration intensified the divide between Patriots and Loyalists, leading to conflicts within communities.

Neutral Colonists

Some colonists remained neutral, not taking a clear side. They were unsure about the idea of independence and worried about the potential consequences of a war with Britain. These neutral colonists often wanted to avoid conflict and hoped for a peaceful resolution. Over time, some of these neutral colonists were swayed by the arguments and actions of the Patriots. The public readings, discussions, and visible support for the Declaration helped convert many neutral colonists to the cause of independence. However, others remained neutral or even turned Loyalist as the conflict escalated.

Key Dates 💡

July 5, 1776

John Dunlap prints the first copies of the Declaration of Independence, known as the "Dunlap Broadsides." These printed copies were quickly distributed to spread the news of independence throughout the colonies. These broadsides were essential for informing the public and ensuring that the message reached as many people as possible. They were posted in town squares, read aloud in public gatherings, and distributed to various communities.

July 6, 1776

The Pennsylvania Evening Post prints the first newspaper rendition of the Declaration of Independence. This helped the message reach even more people, including those who might not have seen the Dunlap Broadsides. Newspapers played a crucial role in disseminating information and fostering public discussion. By printing the Declaration, newspapers helped educate the colonists about the reasons for independence and the new direction their nation was taking.

July 8, 1776

The Declaration of Independence is publicly read for the first time in Philadelphia. Crowds gathered to hear the powerful words that declared their freedom. This public reading was a significant event, making the idea of independence real for many colonists. Hearing the Declaration read aloud in public spaces allowed people to connect emotionally with its message. It also provided a sense of communal solidarity and shared purpose.

July 9, 1776

New York delegates approve the Declaration of Independence, making it unanimous among the Thirteen Colonies. This showed that all the colonies were united in their decision to break away from Britain, strengthening their resolve and commitment to the cause of independence. The unanimous approval by the New York delegates was a crucial moment, as it signified complete colonial unity. This unity was vital for the colonies to present a strong, cohesive front against British opposition.

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How Did the Declaration of Independence Change the World?

The Declaration of Independence was a groundbreaking document that didn't just impact America but also had a profound influence on the world. Here's a closer look at its global impact:


Inspired by the American struggle for independence, the French Revolution began in 1789. The French people were motivated by the Declaration's emphasis on liberty, equality, and the right to overthrow an oppressive government. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted in 1789, echoes many principles from the American Declaration.

Latin America

Many Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, Colombia, and Argentina, were inspired by the Declaration of Independence when they fought for their own independence from Spanish rule in the early 19th century. Leaders like Simón Bolívar looked to the American Revolution as a model for their own liberation movements.


Across Europe, movements for national independence and democratic reforms were influenced by the American Declaration. Countries striving for self-determination and freedom used the Declaration's principles as a rallying cry for their own struggles.

How Did the Declaration of Independence Influence Future Documents?

The Declaration of Independence influenced future documents by establishing the principles of individual rights and government by consent. It inspired the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, promoting the ideas of liberty, equality, and democracy. Here are some ways how it influenced the future documents of America - 

  • United States Constitution: The ideas of liberty and the protection of individual rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence directly influenced the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The Bill of Rights, added in 1791, further enshrined these principles.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, this document was significantly influenced by the Declaration of Independence. It outlines fundamental human rights that should be protected globally, reflecting the Declaration's belief in inherent human rights.
  • National Constitutions: Many countries' constitutions, especially newly independent states, drew inspiration from the Declaration of Independence. They incorporated principles of equality, freedom, and the right to self-governance, establishing democratic governments around the world.

What Challenges Did the Signers of the Declaration of Independence Face?

The men who signed the Declaration of Independence took huge risks. They were brave leaders who wanted freedom from British rule, but this came with great danger. Here are some of the challenges and sacrifices they faced:

Personal Risks

  • Treason: By signing the Declaration, they were committing treason against Britain. If caught, they could be hanged.
  • Loss of Property: Many signers had their homes and properties destroyed by British forces. They risked losing everything they owned.
  • Family Safety: Their families were also in danger. British soldiers could attack their loved ones to punish them for seeking independence.

Financial Hardships

  • Economic Loss: Many signers were wealthy men, but the war cost them a lot of money. They had to spend their own funds to support the Revolutionary War.
  • Debt and Ruin: Some ended up in debt and lost their fortunes because they supported the cause of independence.

Social Consequences

  • Isolation: They were sometimes isolated from friends and family who remained loyal to Britain. This made their lives very lonely and difficult.
  • Health Issues: The stress and hardships of war affected their health. Some faced severe illnesses and hardships due to their commitment to independence.

Long-Term Consequences of the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence had both immediate effects and long-lasting impacts on America and the world:

  • War Intensification: After the Declaration was signed, the Revolutionary War intensified. The colonies were now fighting not just for better treatment, but for complete independence.
  • Increased Support: The Declaration inspired more people to join the fight for freedom. It united the colonies with a common cause.
  • International Attention: Other countries noticed the bold move of the American colonies. France, for instance, decided to help the Americans in their fight against Britain.
  • Creation of a New Nation: The most significant result was the creation of the United States of America. The colonies became a free and independent nation.
  • Founding Principles: The Declaration's principles of liberty and equality became the foundation for American democracy. They influenced the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Key Dates 💡

July 19, 1776

The Continental Congress ordered an official engrossed (written in a large, clear hand) copy of the Declaration of Independence. This copy was to be signed by all the members.

August 2, 1776

Most members of the Continental Congress signed the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence. This act was symbolic, showing their commitment to the cause of freedom.

January 18, 1777

Congress ordered that signed copies of the Declaration of Independence be sent to all the states. This helped spread the message of independence and unity across the new nation.

Importance of Equality in the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence has a famous line that says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." This means that everyone should be treated the same and have the same rights, no matter who they are. Here are some important points about how the Declaration addresses equality:

  • Equality for Everyone: The idea that "all men are created equal" means that every person has the same value and should have the same opportunities. It says that everyone has rights that cannot be taken away, like the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Changing Interpretations: When the Declaration was written in 1776, the idea of equality was revolutionary. However, at that time, not everyone was treated equally. For example, women, enslaved people, and Native Americans did not have the same rights as white men. Over time, people have worked to make the idea of equality in the Declaration a reality for everyone.
  • Inspiration for Equality Movements: The words of the Declaration have inspired many movements for equality. For instance, the civil rights movement in the 1960s used the Declaration to argue for equal rights for African Americans. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. quoted the Declaration to show that everyone deserves to be treated equally.

The Declaration of Independence has been used many times in legal and political arguments to support the idea of equality and other important principles. Here are some examples:

  • Abolition of Slavery: In the 1800s, people who wanted to end slavery used the Declaration to argue that slavery was wrong. They said that since "all men are created equal," enslaved people should have the same rights as everyone else. The Declaration's words helped to support the movement to abolish slavery.
  • Women's Rights: The Declaration also inspired the women's rights movement. In 1848, at the Seneca Falls Convention, leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, which was based on the Declaration of Independence. They argued that women should have the same rights as men, including the right to vote.
  • Civil Rights Movement: During the 1960s, the civil rights movement used the Declaration to demand equal rights for African Americans. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech quoted the Declaration, saying that the promise that "all men are created equal" had not yet been fulfilled for Black Americans. The movement used these powerful words to push for change and justice.
  • Legal Cases: The Declaration has been mentioned in many court cases. Although it is not a law itself, it has been used to support arguments for justice and equality. For example, in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which ended racial segregation in schools, the principles of equality from the Declaration helped to show that segregation was unfair and wrong.

How Did the Declaration of Independence Shape American Identity?

The Declaration of Independence played a huge role in shaping how Americans see themselves and their country. Let's explore how it influenced the national identity and values:

  • Creating a New Nation: When the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776, it marked the birth of the United States of America. Before this, the colonies were part of Britain. The Declaration announced that the colonies were now independent and free to create their own country. This was a bold and important step that helped form a new American identity.
  • Values of Freedom and Equality: The Declaration says that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These words became the foundation of American values. They mean that every person should have the freedom to live their life as they choose and seek happiness. These ideas are still very important to Americans today.
  • Unity and Patriotism: The Declaration helped unite the colonies against a common enemy-Britain. By declaring independence, the colonies came together as one nation. This sense of unity and the fight for freedom created a strong sense of patriotism, or love for the country. Americans celebrate Independence Day every year on July 4th to remember the adoption of the Declaration and the birth of their nation.
  • Inspiration for Future Generations: The principles in the Declaration have inspired many Americans to fight for their rights and make their country better. Over the years, people have used the Declaration to argue for equality, justice, and freedom. It has been a guiding light for movements like the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and civil rights.
  • Educational Importance: The Declaration is a key part of American history that students learn about in school. It teaches them about the country's founding principles and the brave people who fought for independence. Learning about the Declaration helps students understand what it means to be an American and the values their country was built on.
  • Symbol of Democracy: The Declaration of Independence is a powerful symbol of democracy and the belief that government should serve the people. It says that governments get their power from the consent of the governed, meaning the people have a say in how they are ruled. This idea is central to American democracy and influences how the country is governed.

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Congratulations on completing the lesson about the Declaration of Independence! You've learned about the important Declaration of Independence text, which boldly declared the American colonies' freedom from Britain on the historic Declaration of Independence date. You've discovered the bravery of the signers of the Declaration of Independence who risked everything for liberty and whose Declaration of Independence signatures made history.

The Declaration of Independence definition highlights its role in stating that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In our Declaration of Independence summary, we saw how this powerful document not only shaped America but also inspired freedom movements around the world. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Keep these words in mind as you continue to learn and grow.

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