Q78: Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

A. John Hancock
B. Samuel Adams
C. George Washington 
D. Thomas Jefferson

Question Background Information


As the Second Continental Congress debated separation from England, it assigned a committee to draft the document that would publicly declare the American colonies’ independence from Great Britain, as well as explain why. That committee also included John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Livingston, but these men assigned primary authorship of the Declaration of Independence to Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson was influenced by various political philosophers from the Western tradition, such as the classical Greek thinker Epicurus and more recent Enlightenment writers, such as the French Baron d’Montesquieu and the English John Locke, but the Declaration arguably drew most directly from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason shortly before in the summer of 1776.

The rest of the committee, and then Congress, requested several changes to Jefferson’s draft—most notably, the original version blamed Parliament and the king both, and Jefferson initially included a line blaming the British for encouraging slavery within the colonies—but for the most part, Jefferson’s version remained. It was thus with some reason that Jefferson requested that his authorship be commemorated on his tombstone. 

Additional Content

Offline Activity


This activity offers students the opportunity to explore how the Constitution implements the ideas and objectives of the Declaration of Independence by having the students compare parallels between the two documents This assignment requires a close reading of the documents and helps students practice higher-order thinking skills. 


  • Divide students into groups of 4-5, mixing support, core, and enrichment students. 
  • Provide a copy of the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights for each group/student.  
  • Print a copy of the scavenger hunt for each group/student.
  • Print a sample copy of the scavenger hunt for your reference.  

Required materials


  1. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Each group should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C.  
    • Depending on the class, you may wish to have the students work independently.  
  2. Provide each student or pair with the necessary materials.  
    • Adjust the length of the readings and scope of the assignment to meet the needs of the class or to meet time constraints. This assignment will work equally well with just the Constitution or just the amendments. For classes where the majority of the students are struggling, you may want to just focus on the amendments. One easy way to scale the assignment up or down with length is that you can also set the number of parallels between the Declaration and Independence—3, 5, etc. 
  3. Each group will read the excerpts from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and look for specific statements that protect rights described in the Declaration of Independence in order to complete the scavenger hunt.  
  4. Circulate throughout the room as the students complete the worksheets to check for understanding. 
  5. When the assignment is concluded, have the students share their responses, and invite the students to talk about how the Constitution does or does not implement the ideas contained within the Declaration of Independence.

Discussion Prompts

Prompt 1

The Declaration of Independence was written once it became clear that the British would never accept the Americans colonists’ understanding of political freedom. In early 1776, Congress determined that full independence was the only option and authorized a small committee to draft a document declaring independence. Though there were five men on the committee, there was one primary author, with the others mostly commenting on his work and advising him. Who was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence? Why do you think a committee was necessary to help him?

Prompt 2

Although removed at the request of southern members of Congress,  Jefferson’s initial draft famously included a paragraph decrying slavery as a violation of the rights of men: “he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold….”

Should the Congress have kept that in, even if it meant Georgia and South Carolina (and possibly other southern states) would have refused to sign the Declaration and possibly refused to join a union of states? Or was the Congress right to focus first on securing independence and approving the opening political philosophy that ultimately attacked slavery, but without the explicit condemnation?