Well over a year into an armed insurrection against Great Britain members of the Continental Congress met to put down on paper the grievances the colonies had with the King and government of Great Britain. It would take Thomas Jefferson seventeen days to draft the document which the second Continental Congress would consider for two days as a committee of the whole making changes they thought necessary to clearly express why the thirteen colonies had risen in armed rebellion against their overlords. The document is more than thirteen-hundred words long beginning with “In the course of human events…” and ending with “…our sacred honor.” I think it important to note that the last word of the Declaration is, in and of itself, an expression of rebellion and a new form of thinking for Thomas Jefferson chose to use a purely American spelling of the word ‘honor’ leaving out the “U” of the British English “honour.”
While the Declaration is famous, it is but an exposition of independence sent to Great Britain. The actual legal severing of ties to the King and Parliament occurred on July 02, when the representatives adopted the “Lee Resolution” dissolving all ties that bound the constituent colonies to Great Britain, calling for the forming of foreign alliances and proposing a confederation of the thirteen colonies. So, the actual day of independence is not the fourth but the second. In fact the declaration was only approved on the fourth by twelve of the colonies, New York abstained until later. As for the famous signatures on the Declaration there was no queue to sign on the fourth as the movie “1776” would have us believe. Some of the delegates did not sign the document until August 2. In fact, eight of the signatories of the Declaration were not even delegates to the convention on the fourth of July, taking their seats in August.
As for independence itself, there were many, especially in the Southern Colony of South Carolina, who did not favor severing ties with Great Britain. Remember this is one of the reasons Cornwallis would decide to move the prosecution of the war from New York and Pennsylvania to North and South Carolina in 1780. He thought he would find more domestic allies in the South than the North. He was correct to a point but he did not gauge the resolve or capabilities of the Over the Mountain Men of mostly Scottish and Irish heritage who had no love for the English. Nonetheless, independence was not a foregone conclusion when the Second Continental Congress convened.
From the actual declaration of independence on the second of July 1776 to the Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781 there would be five years of internecine warfare wherein the concept of America would be forged in the fires of hardship. But all historical events have real beginnings and endings and Hollywood beginnings and endings. In the case of the United States of American the surrender at Yorktown wasn’t an ending but the beginning of a long and even more difficult process of becoming a functioning democratic republic.