July 4 marks the 248th Independence Day of the United States. It was the day when the Declaration of Independence, the document which marked the foundation of the US as a union of states liberated from Britain, was signed.

Here is a brief history.

Colonists’ discontent with Britain

More than 150 years after the British first ventured into North America to build permanent colonies, the settlers on the land, called colonists, had grown increasingly disgruntled with the British.

The 13 British colonies were expected to operate as self-serving legislatures which would independently pass laws, levy taxes, and gather troops. However, colonists did not have any manner of representation in the British Parliament in London.

Till 1763, the British followed a policy of ‘salutary neglect’ with its American colonies which were given free rein in their trade processes. Things changed after the end of the French and Indian War. The British issued a proclamation forbidding colonists from expanding their residences into indigenous territory, which the settlers considered an infringement of their freedom.

This directive was ignored, souring relations with London. What followed was a decade of strict sanctions. A series of legislations like the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), the Tea Act (1773) and the Intolerable Acts (1774) were passed, increasing British interference in the lives of Americans.

Festive offer

Add to this ideas regarding freedom and equality that arose during the Enlightenment, and the situation was ripe for a revolution against the monarchy.

Leading up to the Declaration

On December 16, 1773, a group known as the Sons of Liberty destroyed a shipment of tea, sent to Boston by the British East India Company. The Boston Tea Party began a resistance movement across the colonies against the oppressive tea tax, and the British Empire as a whole. The colonists claimed that Britain had no right to tax colonists without giving them representation in the British Parliament.

The colonies got together and formed the Continental Congress to decide a further course of action against the British. While they initially tried to enforce a boycott of British goods, and met King George III to negotiate better terms, their attempts were in vain.

By April 1775, the 13 colonies were fighting a war to gain independence from the Empire.

Even as the fighting continued, on July 2, 1776, 12 of the 13 member-states of the Congress “unanimously” observed that the colonies “are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” This essentially amounted to a formal vote of independence.

As John Adams, who would go on to succeed George Washington as the second President of the US, said, “The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” He was off by 2 days — the formal document solemnising the colonies’ independence would be signed on July 4.

Declaration of Independence

In June 1776, a committee comprising Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R Livingston was elected to draft a statement justifying the assertion of independence, should the event arise.

The text itself was largely written by Jefferson, who had previously written ‘A Summary View of the Rights of British America’ in 1775. In this treatise, he wrote, “Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate and systematic plan of reducing us to slavery.” Ironically, Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves.

Nevertheless, the Declaration followed suit from this document. It was signed by 56 delegates, including the five-member committee that framed it, and these signatories would forever be identified as the United States’ founding fathers.

“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,” the Declaration read.

The British would formally recognize American independence after its defeat in the Revolutionary War in 1783. The US won with the support of Britain’s European rivals — France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic.