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The United States was an act of the Second Continental Congress,
adopted on July 4, 1776, which declared that the
Thirteen Colonies
were independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain. The document,
formally titled , written chiefly by
Thomas Jefferson, explained the
justifications for secession from the British crown, and was an
expansion of the Lee Resolution (passed by Congress on July 2),
which first proclaimed independence. An engrossed copy of the
Declaration was signed by most of the delegates on August 2 and is
now on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The Declaration is considered to be a preceding founding
document of the later formed
United States of America, where July
4th is celebrated as Independence Day. At the time the
Declaration was issued, the American colonies were "united" in
declaring their independence from Great Britain, but were not yet
declaring themselves to be a single nation. That union would
evolve and take shape during the next few years after the
Declaration was issued. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln succinctly
explained the central importance of the Declaration to American
history in his
Gettysburg Address of 1863:

History
Background
As relations between Great Britain and its American colonies
became increasingly strained, the Americans set up a shadow
government in each colony, with a Continental Congress and
Committees of Correspondence linking these shadow governments.
As soon as fighting broke out in April 1775, these shadow
governments took control of each colony and ousted all the royal
officials. That marked the beginning of the
American Revolutionary
War. Sentiment for outright independence grew rapidly in response
to British actions; the options were clarified by Thomas Paine's
pamphlet , released in January 1776.

Draft and adoption
In June of 1776, a committee of the Second Continental Congress
consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of
Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of
New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut (the "Committee of
Five"), was formed to draft a suitable declaration to frame this
resolution. The committee decided that Jefferson would write the
draft, which he showed to Franklin and Adams. Franklin himself made
at least 48 corrections. Jefferson then produced another copy
incorporating these changes, and the committee presented this
copy to the Continental Congress on June 28, 1776. A formal
declaration for independence was delayed on July 2, 1776, pursuant
to the "Lee Resolution" presented by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia
on June 7, 1776,    The full Declaration was reworked somewhat in
general session of the Continental Congress. Congress, meeting in
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, finished revising Jefferson's draft
statement on July 4, approved it, and sent it to a printer.
At the signing, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having stated: "We
must all hang together, or assuredly we'll all hang separately," a play
on words indicating that failure to stay united and succeed would
risk being tried and executed, individually, for treason.
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United States Declaration of Independence Totally Explained