Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The Committee of Five is appointed (1776)
The Committee of Five was appointed by the Second Continental Congress – a convention of delegates of the thirteen American colonies functioning as the de facto government of what became the U.S.—to draft the American Declaration of Independence.
John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia were appointed as members of the committee on June 11, 1776.
The Thirteen Colonies had been at war with Great Britain for over a year; initially in retaliation to the latter’s practice of levying taxes without consent. In the midst of this hostility, on June 7, 1776, a delegate from Virginia – Richard Henry Lee – introduced a resolution in the Continental Congress, asserting that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown.”
Due to the apprehensions and limitations of some of the States, the Congress postponed the resolution and appointed the Committee of Five to draft the text of the Declaration. The goal of the Declaration was to convince the States (and the rest of the world) that the time had come for them to separate from Great Britain and govern themselves. The Declaration was ratified by the Congress on July 4 – two days after the Lee Resolution was passed– and dispatched the following day to various committees and assemblies.
The text – penned largely by Thomas Jefferson – contained the well-known words, “all men are created equal,” which served as the inspiration behind Abraham Lincoln’s monumental address at Gettysburg decades later. It is also regarded as a source of inspiration during the struggles for freedom in several other countries including Haiti, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Hungary and New Zealand.
As a result of the Declaration’s crucial role in securing U.S. independence, and the rich legacy it left behind, Jefferson is now regarded one of the most noteworthy figures in American history.