A July 4th Tradition: The Declaration Of Independence, Read Aloud

Jul 4, 2017
Originally published on July 4, 2017 10:12 am

Twenty-nine years ago, Morning Edition launched what has become an Independence Day tradition: hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators reading the Declaration of Independence.

Church bells rang out over Philadelphia as the Continental Congress adopted this draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Below is the original text of the Declaration, alongside photos of the NPR staff members who performed the reading.

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And I'm Mary Louise Kelly with a document from a deeply divided time. It was a time when Americans turned against each other.


A man in Philadelphia declared the rich, the poor, the high professor and the profane seem all infected with a grievous disorder, so the love of our neighbors seems banished. The love of self and opinions so far prevails.

KELLY: If the language seems old-fashioned it's because the time was 1776. The United States was early in its Revolutionary War. Even those who opposed British rule disagreed on what to do.

INSKEEP: And it was in this atmosphere that a few dozen men - the Continental Congress - drafted the document which John Adams called a declaration of independency. Its principles have guided the country ever since.

KELLY: Not all people were then held as equal, yet this document declared them so.

INSKEEP: American colonists were not entirely free to speak their minds. Indeed, their denunciation of British rule was considered treason punishable by death. Yet they signed the paper insisting on their freedom of speech, which Ben Franklin had once called a principal pillar of a free government.

KELLY: On this Independence Day, their words are read by our colleagues, NPR journalists.


INSKEEP: When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: 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.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: 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 affect their safety and happiness.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: And accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: The history of the present king of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without and convulsions within.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: He has obstructed the administration of justice by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. He has made judges dependent on his will alone for the tenure of their offices and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us; for protecting them by a mock trial from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.

KELLY: For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world; for imposing taxes on us without our consent; for depriving us in many cases of the benefits of trial by jury.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses; for abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments; for suspending our own legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: He has abdicated government here by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: They, too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: 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.

GREENE: 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.

MARTIN: 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.

INSKEEP: 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.

KELLY: Two hundred forty-one years ago today, church bells rang out over Philadelphia as the Continental Congress adopted this draft of the Declaration of Independence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC WEINBERG'S "DAWN AT YORKTOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.