The Declaration of Independence, what were Adams' and Jefferson's intentions with the document? What factors do they cite in support of their cause, and to what extent did those factors reflect the colonists’ experiences?

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The intentions that these two men (and others from the committee who were assigned to write the Declaration) had were announce the fact (from their point of view) that the colonies were now independent and to explain to people in the colonies and in Europe why they were breaking away from Britain.  If there was to be a fight for independence, the colonists were going to need a lot of help.  Those colonists who were already convinced of the need for independence would need to get help from the colonists who were still not sure.  The colonists in general would surely need help from European powers such as France.  The intention of the Declaration was to persuade the undecided colonists and the Europeans that the rebels had a legitimate reason for breaking away from Britain.

In supporting their cause, the writers of the Declaration presented two main types of factors.  First, they presented philosophical and theoretical factors.  They say that all men are created equal and are given certain human rights by their creator.  They say that government has to help protect these rights and that any government that fails to do so can be removed and replaced.  These were ideas that had been advanced by Enlightenment thinkers, particularly by John Locke.  The writers of the Declaration then went on to “prove” that the British government (or the King in specific) had failed to protect their rights.  This is the second set of factors that they cite in support of their cause.  They cite a litany of things that they allege the king has done.  All of these things would constitute violations of the human rights that the writers claim.

What the writers are doing, then, is to explain their desire for independence in terms that would have been familiar to their audience.  Their audience would have known of the ideas of John Locke since Locke was quite famous as a political thinker.  The writers would have been saying something along the lines of “you all know what Locke says about government.  Now look at this evidence and see that Locke would say that the king has forfeited his right to rule us.  We now have the right to overthrow his government and set up a new and more just government of our own.”

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