When the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and then had it published in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6, 1776, no one really knew what it all meant. The delegates who later signed the Declaration believed that Great Britain sought to control their lives in ways that were unacceptable. They had accepted the political philosophy of Englishman John Locke, who stated that a government should pay attention to the needs and desires of its subjects. A government’s failure to listen and respond provided a reason for rebellion; and John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and the rest of the Continental Congress believed that Britain’s “tyranny” justified their revolution. These men had embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment, an eighteenth-century philosophical outlook which emphasized man’s rationality and his ability to use his mind to solve all problems. If a person gathered information and studied it carefully, the answer to any question would be obvious. The delegates to the Continental Congress believed that their revolution fit this description—anyone looking at the actions of Great Britain would agree that the colonies could do nothing else but revolt in order to guarantee their political rights.
But believing that their actions were justified did not mean that these men knew the consequences of those actions. They could declare the colonies independent, but what exactly did that action mean? Besides the obvious fact of the need to win the war against Great Britain, the colonies would have to define what it meant to be “free and independent states” by developing a government structure and fleshing out how the previously distinct and separate colonies would relate to each other and how they would face the future together as one nation. It would take decades to answer many of these questions, but many of them were discussed immediately. As