Associated Press

July 4, 1776, stands in the nation's collective memory as the day America declared her independence from Great Britain during the American Revolution, more than a year after the events at Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill and Washington's appointment as commander-in-chief of the Continental forces.

Whether the country should celebrate on July 2, when the Continental Congress approved a resolution for independence; July 4, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress; or August 2, when most delegates are believed to have signed the document, is irrelevant when it comes to celebrating the beliefs in the rights of man advanced by the declaration and the government that eventually grew from it.

Here's a look at some quotes pertaining to this critical time in America's history, from those who helped lay the groundwork for the penning of the Declaration of Independence to those who helped write the historic document and those impacted by it years after the fact.

July 1775

"With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficient Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves."

Declaration of Taking Up Arms, by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, July 6, 1775

January 1776

"O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind."

— Thomas Paine, Common Sense

June 1776

"The dons, the bashaws, the grandees, the patricians, the sachems, the nabobs, call them by what names you please, sigh and groan and fret, and sometimes stamp and foam and curse, but all in vain. The decree is gone forth, and it cannot be recalled, that a more equal liberty than has prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America."

John Adams, letter to Patrick Henry, June 3, 1776

June 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.

"That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

"That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation."

Richard Henry Lee's Independence Resolution, June 7, 1776

July 1776

"When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superiour Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprized at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution.

"Britain has been fill'd with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my judgment. -- Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever.

"It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us."

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

July 1776

"We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must hang together."

John Hancock, July 4, 1776

July 1776

"My hand trembles, but my heart does not."

Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island delegate

July 1776

"Let us prepare for the worst. We can die here but once."

Abraham Clark, New Jersey delegate, to Elias Dayton, July 4, 1776

July 1776

"We hold these truths to be self-evident:

"That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Declaration of Independence

July 1776

"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."

Declaration of Independence

July 1776

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776 (the day the Continental Congress approved a resolution for independence), will be the most memorable Epocha, 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

July 1776

"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."

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

July 1776

"Tho your Letters never fail to give me pleasure, be the subject what it will, yet it was greatly heightned by the prospect of the future happiness and glory of our Country; nor am I a little Gratified when I reflect that a person so nearly connected with me had the Honour of being a principal actor, in laying a foundation for its future Greatness.

"May the foundation of our new constitution, be justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or tempests will overthrow it."

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, July 13, 1776

"Adams, remarking the difficulty with which the resolution of independence was passed, said it was like getting thirteen clocks to strike at the same instant."

Historian Garry Wills

July 1776

"The Hon. The Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independent States:

"The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.

"The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: And that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country."

George Washington, General Orders, July 9, 1776

August 1776

"Advice is received that the congress resolved upon independence the 4th of July; and, it is said, have declared war against Great Britain in form."

London Chronicle, August 13, 1776

July/September 1776

"New York, July 11: On Wednesday last, the declaration of independence was read at the head of each brigade of the continental army, posted at and near New York, and every where received with loud huzzas, and the utmost demonstrations of joy."

— London Chronicle, September 26, 1776

July 1811
Photo: Byron W.Moore/Shutterstock.com

“Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants?”

Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania delegate, July 20, 1811

February 1818

"But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations...This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution."

Letter from John Adams to H. Niles, February 13, 1818

September 1821

"The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them."

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, September 12, 1821

May 1825

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825

June 1826

"Let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Roger Weightman, June 24, 1826

"The Declaration, like Common Sense, was much more than a repudiation of George III. It put into words, even more effectively than Paine did, the principle which had been forming in the American mind, 'that all men are created equal.'"

Historian Edmund S. Morgan

July 1852

"I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost."

Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

December 1952

"We find it hard to believe that liberty could ever be lost in this country. But it can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases."

President Harry Truman, December 15, 1952, address at the National Archives