According to the Declaration of Independence, what should the people do when the government fails to fulfill its purpose?

The Declaration of Independence states that when government acts in a way contrary to the liberty and best interests of those whom government serves, then the people have a right and obligation to alter it, change it, or institute a new form of government.

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By the time Thomas Jefferson and others completed the Declaration of Independence, the relationship between the American colonists and the British government was at an all time low. The Americans and the British had disputes in the past, but they eventually reconciled them in a mostly peaceful manner. This time was different. The position of the British was intransigent. The American colonies' leaders felt they were left with a single alternative: to secede from British rule.

The notions of self-determination and natural rights were common philosophical themes at the time, and they informed debates around issues related to taxation, representation, and rights in the colonies. The idea of these rights are reflected in one of the Declarations more famous passages: "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."

Jefferson then follows with exactly what the remedy is when governments violate the principles of natural rights and proceed to restrict liberty: "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."

The response to tyranny is either to "alter and abolish" with the aim to "institute a new Government." In the same section, Jefferson writes that the people have the right and responsibility to change the government ("it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government"). Though the word "revolution" is not specifically mentioned, the message is clear, and the British would have but one interpretation of the Declaration of Independence: the American colonists intended to secede from British rule through any means possible, including revolution.

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