Topic 11
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The "Committee of Five" assigned to draft the Declaration of Independence [Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston]

bulletBailyn, chap. 4, 7
bulletSkemp, chap. 8
bullet Paine, Common Sense
bullet John Chalmers Plain Truth
bullet Declaration, First Draft
bullet Declaration of Independence
OVERVIEW: 1776 was a year of decision that transformed thirteen colonies into a new nation fighting for its independence.  As Bailyn essay, 1776 in Britain and America: A Year of Challenge - A World Transformed, demonstrates it was a year of remarkable events on both sides of the Atlantic. This passage from the essay serves as a focus for this topic: "A year of extraordinary, world-transforming challenges in every sphere of life - in ideology, in politics, in government, in religion, in economics, in law, in the uses of military force, and in the basic principles of international relations. In the annals of Western history there is probably no equivalent annus mirabilis, so far-reaching in its challenges and in the range of its ultimate consequences. How can it  be explained?" [Bailyn, Faces of Revolution, chap. 4,  p. 162]

You have to read the whole essay carefully to discover his answer. But for this topic the essential point is that 1776 ushered in one of the most creative periods of political and constitutional thought and experimentation.  The Declaration of Independence was not just the final act of the revolutionary movement that started in the 1760s; it was also the first step down a long road of creating a new nation upon new foundations.


1776 was a banner year for challenges to traditional institutions and theories on both sides of the Atlantic, a year of democratic literature.  Bailyn gives an astonishing list of publications as illustrations:
bulletThomas Paine, Common Sense
bullet Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vol. 1,
bullet Richard Price, Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty
bullet John Cartwright, Take Your Choice!
bullet Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
bullet Jeremy Bentham, Fragment on Government
bulletThomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence



Drafting the Declaration

Thomas Paine  and here and PBS LIBERTY

John Chalmers