The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important pieces of writing in the English language. It’s considered the birth document of American exceptionalism. It was written by a group of delegates who met in Philadelphia in 1787 and officially adopted on July 4, 1788.
The men who wrote it were amazing individuals. They ranged from an accomplished lawyer to a signer of the Constitution who later became the country’s third president. They came from different backgrounds and had different experiences, yet they were bound by a common cause: to form a more perfect union. They wanted to give the country something that would be as meaningful as the Bill of Rights but on a grander scale. They wanted to ensure that the ideals that had been espoused in the Constitution would be upheld and the country would move forward as one.
Here are five delegates who wrote the historic declaration and shaped American history:
1. Thomas Jefferson (Virginia)
Jefferson is best known for being the author of the Declaration of Independence and the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which banned mandatory Catholic worship and officially allowed religious freedom in Virginia. The religious freedom law was so significant that it was later reproduced in the Constitution when it was amended in the 18th century. Jefferson was a lifelong Roman Catholic who became disenchanted with the Church after its support of Napoleon and his disastrous policies in the early 1800s. Jefferson left the Church and became a deist. He and the other founding fathers believed that if the country was to thrive, it needed to be free of the Church’s political influence (which they saw as inherently corrupt).
As a result, Jefferson championed the idea of an independent and ethical government that would be founded on the ideals of the Revolution and that would protect the liberties of the people. This is most evident in the Declaration of Independence itself, where he famously wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
2. Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania)
Franklin’s most famous work, the American Bible, was published in 1789. It was actually the last of his great works. The founding fathers admired Franklin’s civic spiritedness, his public spiritedness even more so. Franklin’s first draft of the Declaration was titled “An Appeal to the Great Sovereigns of Europe For Their Assistance in Regaining Our Independence.” Franklin was the only person who signed the Declaration of Independence and he did so as a representative of Pennsylvania, his home state. During the American Revolution, he served as the printer and publisher of the Boston Gazette, a newspaper that was a mouthpiece for the patriots during the war. The paper is now renowned for its coverage of the conflict, particularly its editorials, which were some of the earliest and most trenchant calls for independence. In 1776, Franklin became the first American to be made an honorary member of the prestigious French Academy.
3. John Hancock (Massachusetts)
Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the New World at the time of the American Revolution. He inherited a large sum of money from his father, who was one of the richest men in Boston. In 1776, Hancock joined the Massachusetts Army as a major and was soon elected senior military officer of the colony. He became famous for his fierce fight against the British during the war. At the time of the Revolution, he was one of the most powerful and prominent men in the country. Hancock was a major player in the establishment of the new American nation and was one of the country’s first five presidents, serving from 1776 to 1793. He is often referred to as the “Father of American Independence.”
4. Roger Sherman (Connecticut)
The Connecticut Senator was an American Revolutionary who voted for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He was the father of the American Industrial Revolution and was instrumental in the development of industry in the country. Before the Revolution, he was a prominent attorney in New London, Connecticut. During the war, Sherman served in the Continental Congress and was a member of the drafting committees for both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He made a name for himself by fiercely advocating that Congress pass the abolition of slavery during the early years of the Revolution. After the war, he continued to be an advocate for the rights of the black community and promoted educational opportunities for them, founding and serving as the first principal of the New London Collegiate Institute (now named after him). He was awarded an honorary LLD by Dartmouth College in 1793.
5. Robert Morris (Pennsylvania)
One of the founding fathers who came from a wealthy and prominent family, Morris was a successful and honest businessman who was also skilled in finance and accounting. He invested heavily in the country’s first manufacturing businesses and was one of the main financiers of the United States. He was one of the leaders of the effort to found the Bank of North America in 1781 and later became its first president. Morris served as the first treasurer of the United States and was instrumental in establishing the framework for the country’s monetary system. In 1789, he was elected as the first president of the United States, serving one term. After leaving the presidency, he continued his involvement in public life, working hard for American foreign policy and trade relations to become what they are today. Morris was a signer of the American Declaration of Independence.
These five men laid the foundation for a great nation. Their shared vision was to form a new and, as they saw it, a more perfect union. They believed that the existing institutions of the country such as government, military, and justice needed to be fixed from top to bottom in order to achieve that goal. For them, the road to success would be an arduous one but, in the end, it would be worth it. That is why, 300 years later, their words still inspire millions of people around the world who believe in nothing less than American exceptionalism and the promise of the country.