Looking back on the Declaration of Independence almost 50 years later, Thomas Jefferson explained that the document’s purpose was never meant to be thoroughly original; its purpose wasn’t to articulate anything that hadn’t been said before, but to make the case for the American colonies in plain terms and persuade the world to see common sense. “It was intended to be an expression of the American mind,” Jefferson explains. He goes on to claim that “[the Declaration's] authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day.” (Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825)
Jefferson finished his timeless defense of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in little more than two weeks, and like most writers, he was no stranger to the revision process. Between the Committee of Five and the Second Continental Congress, there were 86 edits to the document. The Second Continental Congress removed whole sections. Jefferson was most angered by the removal of one particular clause, a clause blaming the King for forcing the slave trade upon the American colonies.
There are 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence. Fifty men from 13 states signed the document on August 2 in 1776. The other six signed over the course of the next year and a half. As the President of the Second Continental Congress, John Hancock signed first. He wrote his name very large. Some of the men abbreviated their first names, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. All of the signers risked their lives when they signed the Declaration of Independence.