On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee brought a resolution to the floor:
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.
There was much debate. More time was needed for the delegates to debate, and receive instruction from their home states. However, a committee of five was set up to draft the Declaration of Independence. Those members included: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman.
On July 2nd, the Congress passed the resolution, and John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
But it was not until July 4th that the Congress adopted the language of the Declaration of Independence. It was a somber occasion, the passing of the initial resolution that led to the Declaration. Everyone who voted for it could be hung by His Majesty’s Government.
Despite what some scholars say about the founding, it was decisively not a self-interested move. The ideals of the Declaration are timeless. The public declaration leads anyone who but consults the document to that conclusion.
Below is a dramatization from the excellent HBO series John Adams depicting the passage of the Lee Resolution: