On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to accept the Declaration of Independence, the famous document that declared the American colonies to be independent from Great Britain. Almost a month later, on August 2, 1776, fifty-six members of Congress came forward to sign their names to a handwritten parchment copy of the Declaration. Most of these men held firmly to the content of the Declaration, all the way from its Preamble through its Declaration of Natural Rights and List of Grievances to the final Resolution of Independence.
The first of these four sections, the Preamble, sets forth the purpose of the document. It explains that sometimes it is necessary for one group to break its political ties with another group, especially when that latter group is violating the former's natural, God-given rights.
The second section, the Declaration of Natural Rights, proceeds to list those “unalienable Rights” in detail. God gives people the rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the document asserts, and government is meant to serve and protect those rights. When a government fails to do so (and in fact destroys such rights), especially after a long time and many attempts at reform, the people have a right to abolish such a dysfunctional government and start a new one. This is the position the American colonies are in, the Declaration proclaims.
The document then goes on to explain exactly why the colonies are in such a position in the Declaration's third section, the List of Grievances. The list is long indeed and covers legislative abuses, lack of representation, obstruction of laws and justice, the presence of standing armies, unfair taxes and control of the economy, and British aggression. The colonies have tried every means possible to petition for a fair redress of these grievances, but the king has shown himself a tyrant in every way, making him “unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
Therefore, the Declaration concludes, the representatives of the new United States of America solemnly set forth a Resolution of Independence, declaring their states “Free and Independent” of Britain and assuming the power of war, peace, alliance, commerce, and all other acts of an independent country.