A Spirited Manifesto
As Congress meets in Philadelphia, British troops clash with New England regiments at the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775. When Congress learns of the battle one week later, even delegates who favor reconciliation are forced to reconsider their position. This is no time to be humble--a forceful American response is necessary. Thomas Jefferson drafts an initial statement describing America's position, which is then rewritten by moderate Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson. Surprisingly, Dickinson's version, which is approved by Congress on 6 July 1775, is even more forceful than Jefferson's first draft. In a letter to James Warren later that day, Massachusetts delegate John Adams calls the Declaration a "spirited manifesto."
Questions to Consider
1. Read the first paragraph of the declaration: What is its stated purpose? (See image 5 of the sequence to find the first paragraph of this document.)
2. Who is the intended audience for this declaration? Colonists? The King? Parliament?
3. List ten adjectives used to describe the British Empire. List ten adjectives used to describe American colonies or colonists. What impression does Congress want the reader to receive of each party?Further Exploration
4. Why might John Dickinson's draft of the Declaration be more forceful than Jefferson's? (Dickinson was strongly in favor of reconciliation throughout his time in Congress.) How might the Battle of Bunker Hill have affected Dickinson's views? Visit the website of the Avalon Project at Yale Law School
to compare the different drafts of the Declaration.