The Lee Resolution is the first of “100 Milestone Documents” presented online by the National Archives and Records Administration. This site offers an image of each original document and brief historical notes regarding its significance.
Approved by the Continental Congress, 2 July 1776
Resolved, 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.Richard Henry Lee penned these words per instructions “to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to or dependence upon the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain” (as quoted in Samuel Eliot Morison, “Prelude to Independence: The Virginia Resolutions of May 15, 1776,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series 8 , 488). Lee introduced his resolution 7 June, which was seconded by John Adams, and Congress adopted the resolution 2 July 1776.
Lee Resolution showing congressional vote, July 2, 1776; Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1783; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives.
The Virginia Resolutions were read in the Continental Congress 27 June, a Committee formed for drafting the Declaration reported the next day, and the Declaration of Independence itself was adopted 4 July.
Efforts to assess the significance of the Lee Resolution have included assertions that “Independence Day was properly the day on which Congress passed the resolution which actually established our independence; and that day was July 2” (Charles Warren, “Fourth of July Myths,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series 2 , 238). A similar spin was put forth in “July 4, 1776, An Imagi-Holiday” at the blog History Is Elementary. She suggests pedagogy of discovery:
Is elementaryhistoryteacher calling for a change in the date for our independence celebrations? No, I’m not. What I am calling for is greater effort on the part of those who teach social studies to know their content concerning myth versus fact and share that information with students. Throw out some teasers to students, provide them with the materials, and let them discover how we decided the 4th instead of the 2nd would be our “Epoch” or Independence Day.She also provides a link to the History News Network’s “Top 5 Myths about the Fourth of July.” Myth #1 is that the United States declared its independence on July 4. The HNN staff writers explain, “America's independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776.”
A reader of History Is Elementary offered a cautionary note regarding claims that the “wrong” day is celebrated every summer, highlighting the crux of Independence:
Liberty, self-determination, the franchise and the founding of a glorious Republic. That, at least, is what I celebrate on the fourth day of July.Patriots and Peoples
A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen offers John Adams’ language that “Congress has passed the most important resolution … ever taken in America” (ellipses in original, Schweikart and Allen, 80). The footnote identifies their source for Adams’ words as a secondary source: Page Smith, John Adams, 1735-1784, vol 1 (1962). The previous paragraph mentions that delegates to the Continental Congress were instructed to support independence; it highlights the leadership role of Virginia through the colony establishing a republican government in June.
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States does not specifically mention the Lee Resolution. There is an allusion to the action where he notes, the Continental Congress “organized a committee to draw up the Declaration of Independence . . . It was adopted by the Congress on July 2, and officially proclaimed on July 4, 1776” (Zinn, 71). The next paragraph discusses precedents in resolutions adopted in North Carolina two months earlier, and quotes from one adopted by Malden, Massachusetts.
Voices of a People’s History, edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove offers that “[a]t least ninety state and local declarations of independence” were issued in the months leading up to July 1776. This information is part of the headnote to “New York Mechanics Declaration of Independence” proclaimed 29 May 1776 (86-87).
The narrative focus through this section in both A Patriot’s History and A People’s History moves from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to the Declaration of Independence.