What are some contradictions in the American Declaration of Independence?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Rather than saying that there are contradictions within the Declaration of Independence, it is more accurate to say that there are contradictions between the words of the Declaration of Independence and the actions of the people who signed it.

The main contradiction is in the idea that “all men are created equal” and that they have the inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  This is not contradictory in itself, but it is contradictory when it is seen in light of American society at that time.  It is contradictory because this was a society in which slavery was accepted and which was, in the South, based on slavery.  It is contradictory to say that all men have the right to liberty while keeping them enslaved.  It is contradictory to say that all men have the right to life while allowing slave owners to kill slaves if they wished. 

The spirit of the Declaration, if not its letter, is also contradicted by the fact that women were denied rights by the same men who signed off on the Declaration.

Thus, the major contradiction is between the idealistic words of the Declaration and the less idealistic society created by the people who signed it.

mkoren's profile pic

mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

One significant contradiction with the Declaration of Independence is that while we were fighting for freedom from Great Britain because we felt that they were violating our rights, the Declaration of Independence only stated that all men are created equal.

The contradiction occurs in several ways. First, all men weren’t created equal. The colonists held slaves who didn’t have rights. It also implied that women weren’t equal to men and shouldn’t have the same rights as men had.

Since we were fighting for freedom and for our rights, it seemed odd that the Declaration of Independence would not state that all people are created equal. Slaves didn’t get their freedom until after the Civil War. Even then, there were many methods used to restrict their rights after Reconstruction ended. Women fought for many years to get the same rights that men had. One example was the right to vote. In some ways, women still are fighting for equal rights. An example would be equal pay.

Thus, in some ways, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence didn’t match the reality that some people faced.


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