Many people believe July 4, 1776 to be the day when the Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain. The truth is the Continental Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776 with the passage of the Lee Resolution. The website OurRecords.gov writes,
Acting under the instruction of the Virginia Convention, Richard Henry Lee on June 7, 1776, introduced a resolution in the Second Continental Congress proposing independence for the colonies. The Lee Resolution contained three parts: a declaration of independence, a call to form foreign alliances, and “a plan for confederation.” The document that is included on page 22 is the complete resolution in Richard Henry Lee’s handwriting. On June 11, 1776, the Congress appointed three concurrent committees in response to the Lee Resolution: one to draft a declaration of independence, a second to draw up a plan “for forming foreign alliances,” and a third to “prepare and digest the form of a confederation.” Because many members of the Congress believed action such as Lee proposed to be premature or wanted instructions from their colonies before voting, approval was deferred until July 2. On that date, Congress adopted the first part (the declaration). The affirmative votes of 12 colonies are listed at the right. New York cast no vote until the newly elected New York Convention upheld the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776. The plan for making treaties was not approved until September of 1776; the plan of confederation was delayed until November of 1777.
The Lee Resolution reads:
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.