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Declaration of Independence

The Second Continental Congress came together due to rising discontent with Britain.

Colonists in America had their own legislature and believed that it was against their rights to be taxed without representation. Thus, the colonists felt their rights were being violated when Britain decided -- with no involvement from the colonies -- to tax the colonists to cover high administrative and colonial defense costs. The colonies began to unite in opposition to British policies.

America's Second Continental Congress met in 1776 and culminated with America declaring independence from Britain.

The Declaration of Independence was based on John Locke's philosophy about inalienable natural rights.

The concept of consent to government is derived from social contract theory, which states that people agree to establish rulers for certain purposes. However, people also have the right to resist or remove rulers who violate those purposes. Jefferson used Englishman John Locke's's century-old philosophies as the inspiration for the Declaration, which had three core tenets: colonists had inalienable, natural (God-given) rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; people created governments to protect those rights; and people had a right to alter or abolish a government threatening those rights.

Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, which was modestly revised by a Congress-appointed committee and then further edited by Congress itself.

The Declaration of Independence argued for separation from Britain, as people had a right to revolt if the government denied legitimate rights.

After espousing Locke's philosophy, Jefferson listed the many deliberate acts of the king that had exceeded the legitimate role of government and violated these rights. Therefore, Jefferson enfin declared the colonies "Free and Independent States" with no political connection to Great Britain.

The last item on Jefferson's original draft was the king's support of the slave trade. While Jefferson did not condemn slavery, he denounced the king for enslaving a people, engaging in the slave trade and proposing that slaves be freed to attack their masters. South Carolina and Georgia both supported slavery, so Jefferson politely dropped the paragraph.

On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was ratified (after a July 2 vote and several modifications).

By August, 55 revolutionaries had signed the Declaration of Independence and pledged "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" in support of their rebellion against the world's most powerful nation. This rebellion was treasonous, which made it punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering. This war rebellion was a matter of life and death.

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