Declaration of Independence
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Unknown to many, there are numerous differences between the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, besides their name. Although they go unnoticed, each shaped our country with great significance and grace. Each had its own purpose. Each had its own time.
The Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 as a statement of the principles that, two days earlier, had led Congress to vote for the independence of the American colonies from Great Britain. It was designed to influence public opinion, both at home and abroad, especially in France, to which the United States looked for military support. The drafting of the document was entrusted to a committee consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Because of Jefferson’s reputation as a literary craftsman, the committee assigned the task to him.
Two passages in Jefferson’s draft were rejected by the Congress-an immoderate reference to the English people and a scornful criticism of the slave trade. The document was otherwise adopted without significant change, and formal signing by fifty-six members of Congress began on August 2, 1776.
The Articles of Confederation, drafted by the Continental Congress in 1777 and ratified in 1781, became the first constitution of the United States. The original draft, prepared by John Dickinson in 1776, contained provisions for a strong and possibly
viable national government, but state jealousies and widespread distrust of central authority led to the override of that document.
Citizens of each state were given equal privileges and immunities, freedom of movement was guaranteed, and procedures for the extradition of accused criminals were outlined. The articles established a national legislature called the Congress, consisting of two to seven delegates from each state; each state had one vote, irrespective of its size or population. No executive or judicial branches were provided for. Congress was charged with responsibility for conducting foreign relations, declaring war or peace, maintaining an army and navy, settling boundary disputes, establishing and maintaining a postal service, and various lesser functions. Some of these responsibilities were shared with the states, and in one way or another Congress was dependent upon the cooperation of the states for carrying out any of them.
The Constitution of the United States comprises the nation’s fundamental law, providing the framework for its power and the principles under which it must operate. Judicial reinterpretation has given the Constitution the flexibility to accommodate changes in the specific laws subject to its authority.
Twelve states, all but Rhode-Island, named seventy-three delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Of these, fifty-five came but only thirty-nine signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. The leaders of the convention were George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin.
Although this only being an insight to the three documents, the differences are quite clearly stated. The Declaration of Independence stated our dependence from Great
Britain to become a country in our own. The Articles of Confederation, known as the original constitution, became the foundation upon which Congress was formed. And, the Constitution helped to provide the framework for the power and principles under which the government should operate. Each having its own place and time, our country would not be what it is now without them.