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Congress officially voted for independence on July 2, 1776, when they approved Richard Henry Lee's resolution that "the United colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States." The Declaration of Independence, which Congress approved on July 4, was intended to be a public statement of the reasons for independence. This is why the document was set up the way it was, with appeals to natural law combined with a series of specific allegations against King George III. But the Declaration was essentially a public statement of what was already, strictly speaking, a fait accompli. Congress had already officially declared independence. This is not, of course, to downplay the importance of the Declaration, which would become, within a few decades after its signing, perhaps the most significant document, other than the Constitution, in American history. It became for many Americans a statement of values that were supposed to define the new nation.
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