The Declaration of Independence

This post is taken from this book.

Of all the political documents ever written, none has had a greater influence on the course of human history than the Declaration of Independence, which nobly declares that only God gives individual rights, liberty, and freedom. Its writing “gave America a founding document that surpasses any other in the world for beauty, logic, and inspirational power…The words of the Declaration became the greatest…statement of political philosophy of all time” (Bennett, America: The Last Best Hope, 1:83).

Prior to 1776, many colonists came to America as loyal British subjects. But they soon discovered that the freedoms they found in America gave them opportunities they never had in England. “Space and time helped set the colonies apart from the British Isles. The colonists found that industry, thrift, and courage brought greater rewards in America than in England…The colonists could care properly for their families and felt that the future would be bright. They were apt to be self-reliant, optimistic, and independent-minded” (in World Book Encyclopedia, 16:254).

However, some in the British government believed that the American colonies existed to benefit Britain. King George III of England asked the British Parliament, where laws were made for the British Empire, to raise more money from the colonies. One example was the Stamp Act of 1765, which required the colonists to pay a tax for all newspapers and other business papers. The colonists objected to the tax because they were not allowed to vote for member of Parliament and felt that no one represented them in England. Though the Stamp Act was removed in 1766, pressure from the king forced Parliament to place other taxes on such things as tea, lead, and glass. These attempts to control and tax the colonists fueled their desires for freedom.

Even though the colonists were alarmed by the continued presence of British and mercenary soldiers who were enforcing unfair laws and taxes, they still were not united about calling for their own independence from England. Such a call didn’t happen until Thomas Paine’s extremely popular pamphlet entitled Common Sense was published in early January of 1776. Within a few months, it sold an “astonishing total of 120,000 copies” (Bailey and Kennedy, American Pageant, 111). With Paine’s call for independence, colonists began to believe it was the best choice.

The Signing of the Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull. Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, and after several changes, it was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
In early June of 1776, representatives from each of the thirteen colonies gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Second Continental Congress to debate the possibility of declaring independence from England. As part of the debate, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee proposed a resolution that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Congress appointed a committee of five men to draft a document supporting Lee’s resolution. John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin met together to prepare a Declaration of Independence, and Jefferson was asked to write the first draft. When the document was finished, the committee made a few changes and presented it to Congress on Monday, July 1, 1776.

Even after the Declaration was read, not all the representatives agreed that declaring independence was the right decision. John Dickinson from Pennsylvania argued against independence, but the John Adams from Massachusetts stood to speak in favor of it. In the opinion of one historian, “it was the most powerful and important speech heard in the Congress since it first [gathered], and the greatest speech of Adam’s life.” Thomas Jefferson said that Adam spoke “‘with power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats'” (McCullough, John Adams, 127). The representatives debated for nine hours. Unable to unite in a decision, the group decided to wait until the following day for a final vote.

Finally, on July 2, 1776, Congress voted in favor of independence. It was a very important day, one that John Adams felt should be celebrated with parades, “‘shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and [lights] from one end of the continent to the other from this time forward forever more'” (McCullough, John Adams, 130). Though Congress favored independence, not everyone agreed on the exact working of the Declaration. On July 3, Congress made the needed changes so all the representatives would agree to sign it.

On Thursday, July 4, 1776, Congress voted unanimously to accept the Declaration of Independence. Only John Hancock and Charles Thomson signed the original paper. Later, Timothy Matlack copied the Declaration of Independence was a brave act. The signers knew that the British considered them traitors and that if they were caught, they would be put to death (see McCullough, John Adams, 138).

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

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.

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 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.–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. 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.

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.

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:
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:

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:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring 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:

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.

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.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
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, 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. 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 Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. 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. 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.

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. 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.

Remember, YOU have the CHOICE to make it a GREAT day!

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