The Declaration of Independence, unanimously adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the founding historical document of the United States.
The text of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 outlined the reasons that motivated the 13 American colonies to declare their independence from the British Empire. In addition, the document addressed important aspects of the protection of human rights.
Table of Contents
- The History of the Creation and Adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776
- Who Wrote the US Declaration of Independence
- Analysis of the US Declaration of Independence
- Summary and Key Points of the US Declaration of Independence 1776
- Influence of the US Declaration of Independence
- Interesting Facts
The History of the Creation and Adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776
The USA did not receive its independence from the moment of the adoption of the Declaration on July 4, 1776. The young American nation, in the form of revolutionaries opposing the British crown, gained its independence during the long years of war – the American Revolution (April 19, 1775 – 1783). Only on November 30, 1782, a truce was concluded, and on September 3, 1783, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States.
The significance of the Declaration of Independence lies in the solemnity of the adoption of an important historical decision: the unification of the Thirteen Colonies, the unanimous signing of the declaration, and the opposition to tyranny from the King of the British Empire.
How does the history of such an important document as the US Declaration of Independence begin? Who is its author? How was the text of the Declaration created? Further in the article, you will find answers to all these questions.
Who Wrote the US Declaration of Independence
On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a 5-member committee to prepare the text of the Declaration. The members of the committee were: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert Livingston of New York. Eventually, Thomas Jefferson was commissioned to write the text of the document.
Thomas Jefferson worked on the document for 17 days (from June 11 to June 28). Jefferson used the rational rhetoric of the 18th century in writing the Declaration.
From 2 to 4 July, Congress discussed, edited, and drafted the final text of the Declaration of Independence. Certain sections were removed from Jefferson’s version, such as the one that accused the King of Britain’s Empire of encouraging slavery and the slave trade.
Initially, the text consisted of 1800 words, but members of Congress removed about a quarter of the text, and several phrases and words were also replaced.
On July 4, the final version of the US Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress and signed by Congress President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson. Based on the printed version of this document, a handwritten copy was created, which was signed by representatives of Thirteen Colonies on August 2, 1776.
There were 56 representatives, most of them lawyers, merchants, and planters:
“…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Some of them actually had to pay for their signature. None of the signatories was executed, but many had a hard time: three representatives from South Carolina were taken prisoner by the British military, and others during the Revolutionary War lost their property, lost their lives, families, and children.
The other half of the signatories obtained government positions: thus Thomas Jefferson and John Adams served as a president; others became governors, and members of Congress, and took part in the creation of the US Constitution.
Analysis of the US Declaration of Independence
The text of the Declaration of Independence is presented as a syllogism with a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
A syllogism is logical reasoning in which a third (conclusion) follows from two given judgments (premises).
The Major Premise
The major premise is stated in the second paragraph of the Declaration. This part of the document caused the most difficulties for Thomas Jefferson. He repeatedly corrected and rewrote the text until he consulted with other members of the committee – Franklin and Adams, who proposed to make some changes.
The inspiration for writing the Declaration for Thomas Jefferson was the works of political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu, as well as scientific treatises, in particular, John Locke’s the Second Treatise of Government.
The only thing is that Jefferson made his own correction and wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
“…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.”
While in John Locke’s treatise it is life, liberty, and property.
So, the major premise is:
“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. 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 effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Further Jefferson endorses the idea of revolution, but only as a last resort, when the government refuses to make concessions and violates basic human rights: “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.” The despotic government must be overthrown and instituted governments “among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The Minor Premise
The minor premise lists misconduct by King of Great Britain George III towards his colonies in North America. This premise occupies the bulk of the US Declaration of Independence and consists of 19 accusatory paragraphs or 27 points.
The first 12 paragraphs concern the abuse of executive power:
“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.
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.
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.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
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 mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured 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.
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 harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
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.”
In the 13th paragraph, Jefferson indicates that the king gave his assent to the Acts of pretended Legislation by the British Parliament: “For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us. For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world. For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent. For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province…”
From the 14th to the 18th paragraph, the king is charged with starting a war against the colonies by sending an army of foreign mercenaries. Besides:
“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
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.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages…”
In the last guilty paragraph, representatives of the colonies complain that all their requests for an end to criminal acts were ignored: “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.”
“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.”
After the major and minor premises, the conclusion follows: this is a result or a consequence of two premises:
“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; 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; 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.”
Summary and Key Points of the US Declaration of Independence 1776
For completeness and integrity, we highlight the main points of the Declaration of Independence:
- All people are created equal.
- All human beings are endowed by God with inalienable rights, which include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- Named a new form of government – popular sovereignty: “… 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 effect their Safety and Happiness.”
- “Repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
- Appeal to the “British Brothers:” 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.”
- Severing the political ties between the North American colonies and the British government, declaring independence: “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; 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…”
- Taking an oath by the representatives of Congress to support the Declaration with life, honor, and fortune.
Influence of the US Declaration of Independence
The US Declaration of Independence of 1776 played a decisive role in the fate of the young American nation. This is a kind of birth certificate of the American people because it is here the name “United States of America” is first encountered.
The Declaration lists the ideals and principles on which the US state was founded: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the formation of a government by the consent of the governed, and resistance to tyranny and despotism.
The US Declaration of Independence has influenced the worldview of many political and public figures. Repeatedly, the text of the declaration served as the basis for public appearances and famous speeches, such as the speech of US President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg and the world-famous “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
Global Impact of the US Declaration of Independence
In addition, the creation and adoption of the Declaration of Independence have become a fundamental event in the formation and development of world democracy.
If we look at the history of Europe in the 18th century, it becomes obvious that the only form of government in that period was the monarchy. At the same time, the Declaration indicates a new type of government – the principle of popular sovereignty, when the source of power is not one person (monarch), but the people:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This document has influenced the history not only of Great Britain and North America but also of many other countries. The Declaration became an inspiration and an impetus for change: mass movements for Independence, protests, and revolutions arose. The most striking example in history is the French Revolution.
Also, the US Declaration of Independence had an impact on the development of European law.
- Until 1790, most Americans did not know that the author of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson. Many believed that the text was written by members of the Continental Congress.
- The Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776, but signed only on August 2.
- The Declaration of Independence is one of the three most significant documents in US history, along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
- Thomas Jefferson spent the last two decades of his life at Monticello (Virginia). He died on July 4, 1826, a few hours before the death of his good friend and former political rival John Adams, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Used sources of information:
- edx.org ( Harvard University “Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking”)
- Full text of the Declaration of Independence
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