Lesson 10
Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence

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In January of 1776, an Englishman named Thomas Paine published a small book called Common Sense. The book said all kings in general, especially George III of England, were bad. The book also stated that America must be free to make its own way. This book became a best-seller. It made Americans believe that America should be a free and independent nation.

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Thomas Paine

In the spring of 1775, the Second Continental Congress met in a red brick building called the Pennsylvania State House. It was later called Independence Hall. Many leaders wanted America to become a separate and equal nation. Some wanted America to have some self-rule while still being a colony of England. Others were not sure what they wanted.

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Independence Hall

On June 7, the issue came to a head. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia stood and put a resolution before the convention. Lee said they should break completely from England. Many delegates were shocked. They decided to vote on this issue on July 1.

A committee to write a Declaration of Independence from England was set up. The committee was made up of the following:

John Adams Massachusetts
Ben Franklin Pennsylvania
Roger  Sherman Connecticut
Thomas Jefferson Virginia
Robert Livingston New York
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Ben Franklin was sick that day and stayed home. The other four men went to visit Franklin at his house. They decided that only one man should write the declaration. The others then would look at it after it was written. Thomas Jefferson was given the job because he was a good writer and he was from the South.

Jefferson worked on the Declaration of Independence for three weeks. Others liked what Jefferson had written. On Friday the 28, the declaration was read to the Congress.

The Virginia resolution to break with England was brought before Congress. The men argued over the words Jefferson had written. By July 4, the delegates were tired and many were afraid there would be a fight. A vote was taken. Some of Jefferson's words were changed before the voting. A statement against slavery was taken out.

The declaration was approved by the Second Continental Congress. Fifty-six men signed the declaration. John Hancock was the first to sign.

A large bell rang out to tell the people of Philadelphia the good news. The bell was later called the Liberty Bell.

The Declaration of Independence showed England and other countries that Americans were determined to become a free nation. If the colonists lost the war, all the men who signed the declaration would hang. The document was signed in July 1776 in Philadelphia.


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About one-third of all Americans stayed loyal to the king and to England. They were called Tories or Loyalists.

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