Prior to the signing of the Declaration, the United States consisted of 13 colonies under the rule of England's King George III. Unrest was strong in the colonies concerning the taxes that had to be paid to England. The cry of "Taxation without Representation" was heard throughout the land.
Colonists had no representation in the English Parliament, and no say in their own government. Even men like Benjamin Franklin, perhaps Philadelphia's most famous citizen, and a man who well into the 1770s considered himself a loyal British subject, began to become disenchanted by what they called a "capricious English policy."
As the unrest grew in the colonies, King George continued to send additional troops to help control any potential rebellion. In September of 1774, the 13 colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to form the First Continental Congress. They met in Carpenters' Hall.
Most members of the First Continental Congress hoped that a commercial boycott would persuade the British government to grant their demands.
On October 20, 1774, the Congress issued Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress in which they voted neither to import goods from Great Britain or Ireland, consume such goods or export colonial goods. In essence all trade was broken. It was hoped that this economic maneuver would bring about repeal of the "Intolerable Acts" which had been passed in the British parliament.
During the next nine months, several significant incidents occurred. The King declared that Massachusetts was a state of rebellion. Trade was restricted in New England. Then in April 1775, the King's troops advanced on Concord Massachusetts and the Battle of Concord and its "shot heard round the world" would mark the unofficial beginning of the colonies' war for Independence.
As agreed the previous October, in May of 1775 the colonies again sent delegates to the Second Continental Congress in an effort to resolve their differences with England without the need for war. They met in the Pennsylvania State House, now called Independence Hall. While still hoping for peace, Congress established a Continental army and appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief.
By June 1776, all efforts at a peaceful resolution had become hopeless. A committee, including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman, was assigned to draft a Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the first draft which was presented to the Congress on June 28, 1776. After various changes, a vote was taken late in the afternoon of July 4th. Of the 13 colonies, 9 voted in favor of the Declaration. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against, Delaware was undecided and New York abstained. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence "with a great flourish" so "King George can read that without spectacles!"
On July 8, 1776, the Liberty Bell rang out from the tower of Independence Hall summoning citizens to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Colonel John Nixon. The words inscribed on the Liberty Bell were never more apt, "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof."
The rest is, as they say, history, but it all began here in Philadelphia 232 years ago.