What were some main ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence?
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The most important ideas in the Declaration are found early in the document. In that part of the document, Jefferson is spelling out the theory that allowed the colonists to claim that they had the right to rebel against England. These ideas include:
- All men are created equal
- All men have basic human rights given to them by God
- The only reason to have a government is to protect these basic human rights, which Jefferson lists as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
- Government must be by the consent of the governed.
- If these last two conditions are not met, the people have the right to rebel against and overthrow their government.
In addition to the important ideas expressed above, the Declaration contains a few other important ideas.
First, the Declaration contains the idea that if the government must be overthrown, a new government must be set up to safeguard the first three conditions, equality, God-given rights of the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In other words, contained within the Declaration is the idea that a subsequent revolution must incorporate the principles of the first revolution, not simply be a justification to devolve into anarchy or some form of despotism.
Second, the Declaration cautions us that a subsequent revolution may not be undertaken lightly, that only when "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism" would another revolution be justified.
Finally, the Declaration contains a long list of what a ruler should not do, essentially to justify the revolution. There are 26 items on the list, which includes the major offenses of the king, for example, abolishing laws enacted within the colonies and taxing the colonies without their consent. Most of what is contained within the original United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which comprises the first ten Amendments of the Constitution, reflects the founding fathers' determination to not do what King George did!
So, in addition to providing a declaration of independence and outlining the God-given rights people are entitled to, the document contains a justification for the actions to be taken and a very long list of what to avoid in the new nation.
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