Today, Americans celebrate the 236th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Many refer to today as Independence Day; however, July 4, 1776 was actually the date on which the Congress adopted the Declaration. Independence was actually declared two days earlier, on July 2nd.
The Declaration was, of course, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, though he did not actually transcribe it. The original Declaration was engrossed on parchment by Timothy Matlack, an assistant to the Secretary of the Congress, and is housed in the National Archives. There also exist 26 known copies of the original declaration — 21 owned by US institutions, two by British institutions, and three by private owners. These copies were printed on paper on the night of July 4th in order to be read aloud to the public.
In many ways, the Declaration was rather ho-hum. It simply reiterated the many complaints Americans-to-be had voiced for decades, such as the King dissolving legislative bodies, refusing to allow local laws to be passed, and, of course, taxing the colonies. The last paragraph, however, contained the language that shocked the world: the the colonies were no longer subject of the King and were, instead, a free and independent country. Nothing like that had ever been done before, and in large part ended up inspiring independence movements all over the globe.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.