This Day in the Law
June 11

Committee of Five Appointed by Congress to Draft Declaration of Independence (1776)

On June 11, the Second Continental Congress appointed five individuals to draft a declaration of independence from Britain.

The American colonies had reached their limit in taking orders from Britain. The thirteen American colonies were especially angered because Britain continued to tax them without allowing the colonies any representation in Britain – i.e. taxation without representation.

On this day, June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed the following five individuals (called the Committee of Five) to draft a declaration of independence from Britain:
  1. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia
  2. John Adams of Massachusetts
  3. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania
  4. Robert Livingston of New York, and
  5. Roger Sherman of Connecticut
Jefferson was selected by the other four members to write the original draft. As Jefferson had only been a member of Congress for about one year, John Adams eloquently explained in his autobiography why Jefferson was selected as Chairman of the Committee to draft the declaration:

It will naturally be enquired, how it happened that he [Jefferson] was appointed on a Committee of such importance. There were more reasons than one. Mr. Jefferson had the Reputation of a masterly Pen. He had been chosen a Delegate in Virginia, in consequence of a very handsome public Paper which he had written for the House of Burgesses, which had given him the Character of a fine Writer. Another reason was that Mr. Richard Henry Lee was not beloved by the most of his Colleagues from Virginia and Mr. Jefferson was sett up to rival and supplant him. This could be done only by the Pen, for Mr. Jefferson could stand no competition with him or any one else in Elocution and public debate. (Source:

Jefferson took approximately 17 days to draft the declaration. Jefferson reviewed other declarations and legal documents as a guide in his writing, including his own work on the Virginia Constitution, George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and other state and local declarations for independence.

Jefferson submitted his rough drafts primarily to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin for review and edit, and the draft received only a few minor corrections. The declaration was formally presented to Congress at the end of June, and Congress reviewed the declaration and debated on what day to formally declare its independence from Britain.

The Declaration of Independence acted as a statement to the world and Britain as to the reasons why the thirteen America colonies were separating from Britain. The Declaration was viewed as an official act of treason by Britain and every member of Congress, including the Committee of Five, faced death by their acts. The Declaration of Independence acted as the catalyst for the American Revolutionary War and the beginning of the United States of America.

NOTE: John Dunlap was selected as the printer for the Declaration of Independence. Dunlap printed approximately 200 original Declarations, called " Broadsides," and distributed most of them to Congress on July 5, 1776. Today, only a few original Broadsides exist.