A call for American independence from Britain, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was drafted by George Mason in May 1776 and amended by Thomas Ludwell Lee (1730–1778) and the Virginia Convention. It was adopted by the Virginia Convention on June 12, 1776. Thomas Jefferson borrowed many ideas and phrases from the Virginia document when he drafted the Declaration of Independence a few weeks later. The Virginia Declaration of Rights has also been heralded as a model for the first ten amendments to the federal Constitution, the amendments known as the "Bill of Rights."
Author: George Mason with amendments by Thomas Ludwell Lee
Title: Virginia Declaration of Rights
Date: May 1776
Collection: George Mason Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms puts forth the reasons for America’s rebellion that were raised in the 1775 congressional declaration. Although the final manifesto stressed a hope for the restoration of peace, Thomas Jefferson’s draft was a "Spirited Manifesto," according to John Adams (1735–1826). The spirited and creative qualities of Jefferson’s writing helped secure his selection as chair of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Author: Thomas Jefferson
Title: Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
Collection: Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
When Thomas Jefferson asserted the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence, he was influenced by the writings of Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782). Kames was a Scottish moral philosopher who argued for the right to "the pursuit of happiness" in his acclaimed work Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion. Jefferson owned and annotated this copy.
Author: Henry Home, Lord Kames
Title: Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, in Two Parts
Collection: Thomas Jefferson Library, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
The works of John Locke (1632–1704), well-known English political philosopher, provided many Americans with the philosophical arguments for inalienable natural rights, principally those of property and of rebellion against abusive governments. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson did not incorporate Locke’s emphasis in his "Second Treatise of Government" on the right to property but gave the right to rebel a prominent place.
Author: John Locke
Title: Two Treatises of Government
City: Awnsham Churchill
Collection: Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and directed that it be printed by John Dunlap. This only surviving fragment of the Declaration broadside printed by Dunlap was sent on July 6, 1776, to George Washington by John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. General Washington had this Declaration read to his assembled troops on July 9 in New York, where they awaited the combined British fleet and army.
Author: Thomas Jefferson
Title: Declaration of Independence
Publisher: John Dunlap
Date: July 4, 1776
Collection: George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress