Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

A chronology of the drafting, adoption, and initial publication of the nation’s founding document.


3 - 12


Social Studies, Civics, U.S. History


Voting on the Declaration of Independence

After much debate, the Second Continental Congress ultimately agreed to the Declaration of Independence, and then signed it on August 2, 1776, in the Pennsylvania State House.

Painting by Robert Edge Pine
After much debate, the Second Continental Congress ultimately agreed to the Declaration of Independence, and then signed it on August 2, 1776, in the Pennsylvania State House.
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The famous text of the Declaration of Independence states "In Congress, July 4, 1776." It is boldly signed by John Hancock and the other founders of the United States. Curiously, this wasn't the official date it was signed. The important declaration of the United States was actually drafted several times by brave leaders. Its history deserves a closer look.

Beginning Drafts

In May of 1775, Congress gathered. Weeks earlier, hostilities broke out between the British troops and colonial soldiers in Massachusetts. Colonists were angered with Britain's rule in America. By August, the king declared the colonists to be rebels. Congress swiftly formed an army under the command of George Washington. Support was growing steady within the colonies for independence from Great Britain.

On June 7, 1776, a lawmaker from Virginia named Richard Henry Lee proposed a resolution in Congress. It was written to convince Congress to demand independence from Britain. Other town and colonial groups were writing similar pleas. They insisted that the colonies should be free from ties to the Crown.

This caused Congress to create a five-member committee to write a more detailed public statement. The committee would clearly explain the reasons for declaring independence. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were on the committee. Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman were also chosen. Thomas Jefferson was selected to be the chief drafter. After including suggestions by Adams and Franklin, the committee gave its draft declaration to the Congress on June 28.

Congress debated the declaration on July 1. At first, nine colonies were prepared to vote for independence. Two states were opposed, two were torn, and New York declined to vote. Then the situation changed overnight. On July 2, Delaware broke the tie in the vote for independence. Two states shifted in favor. When the vote was called on July 2, the declaration passed by a vote of 12 to zero. After this historic decision, John Adams wrote to his wife predicting that future Americans would mark their independence with a festival every second of July.

Further Edits and First Printing

Mounting concern about battle caused Congress to toil more over the declaration. They continued to edit, but made sure to use Jefferson's stirring words. On July 4, Congress approved the final draft.

That evening, the complete version was set to print. It was called "a Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America." It is believed that about 200 copies were published on July 5. Only about 25 still exist today. The paper was signed by John Hancock. It was read aloud in front of the statehouse in Philadelphia on July 8. Over the next few weeks it was reprinted in newspapers up and down the Atlantic coast.

On July 9, New York finally agreed to the vote. A few days later, news reached Philadelphia that the colonies were fully united in the decision. On July 19, Congress ordered an official copy of the declaration for the delegates to sign.

Signing The Declaration

On August 2, 1776, Congress members signed the declaration. Not every man who had been present on July 4 signed the declaration on August 2. Two important officials passed up the chance to sign and others were added later. The first and largest signature was that of the president of the Congress, John Hancock.

The mood in the room was far from celebratory. Everyone was aware of what they were undertaking. It was an act of high treason against the British Crown that could cost each man his life. Recalling the day many years later, Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leader in Philadelphia, wrote about how awful and silent the house was as each member was "called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress." There they signed "what was believed ... at that time to be our own death warrants."

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

April 9, 2024

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