History and Structure of the Declaration- By early summer 1776 the Revolutionary War was already a year old. The Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia had appointed a Committee of Five to write a statement explaining the colonists' arguments for independence from Great Britain. The Committee of Five asked one of its members, 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson, to take on the job of writing the first draft. After Jefferson prepared the draft, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin suggested some changes. The Committee approved the revised draft, and it was delivered to the Congress. Between July 2 and July 4, the Congress made other changes, but the structure and powerful words of the document are still his.
In the end the Declaration would not only shape the government and cultrue of the United States; it would shape the thinking of the world.
The Declaration has a simple structure:
• An introduction saying that we owe the world an explanation for our separation; • A statement of ideals about government;
• A long list of grievances against the British;
• A declaration of independence from Great Britain.
It is the second paragraph of the Declaration — the statement of ideals — that will be our focus in this Mini-Q. In this paragraph, Jefferson said:
"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
Many historians would argue that this is the most important passage in the most important document in American history. Historians also agree that the exact meaning of key words and phrases is open to interpretation. For example,
in the first line Jefferson writes, "all men are created equal." What did he mean by "men"? What did he mean buy "equal"? And later in the same sentence what did he mean by by "Life"? Was he against taking a life and,therefore against warfare? And but the structure and powerfulwhat did he mean by "Liberty?" Was he against slavery even his.though he owned slaves? Indeed this passage in the Declaration is noth powerful and open to interpretation.
Regardless of one's interpretation, these ideas provide the basis for our Constitution and government. They represent American ideals — that is, they reflect the full vision of what America should be. They are worthy of close inspection.
Consider the four key ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence — equality, unalienable rights, consent of the governed, and the right to alter or abolish government. Then write an essay which explains why three of these ideals are important to society, and why the fourth ideal is most important of all.