Read the Declaration of Independence, written primarily by Adams and Jefferson. Now read it a second time, more closely, as if those time-worn words actually have meaning. What were the authors’ intentions with this document? What reasons did they offer for independence, and to what extent do you feel those factors reflect the colonists’ experiences? Does it matter that this was a printed document circulated throughout the colonies?
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The intentions of the authors of the Declaration of Independence were very much tied up with the fact that this was a printed document that was circulated among the colonies (and abroad). The authors intended to build support for the cause of American independence among those who read the document. It is likely that the words that they wrote and the reasons that they gave for independence resonated with the experiences of many of the colonists. However, they were still “spins” on the colonists’ experience. They were meant to convince the colonists that their experiences should be perceived as a set of oppressive acts on the part of the British government.
Not all American colonists supported independence. This was particularly true at the time that the Declaration was written. Therefore, propaganda, or public relations, was needed. The Declaration was one example of this. It took ideas that the colonists might have had in corners of their minds and presented them as truths. It took incidents that could be conceived of in different ways and spun them to make them look like oppression.
The authors gave one main reason for supporting independence. This was the idea that the British government had stopped protecting the rights of the colonists. The authors said that all people had certain “unalienable” rights. They said that governments were made in order to protect those rights. When a government stopped protecting those rights, it could be overthrown. It is likely that many colonists felt similar ideas, but it is also likely that they had not thought them out so thoroughly and carefully.
The authors then list a series of things that the king allegedly did that showed that he was trying to trample the colonists’ rights and was trying to establish a complete tyranny over them. It is likely that many colonists were aware of things that the government had done that angered them. However, it is also likely that they had to be encouraged to think of those actions as part of an effort on the part of the king to tyrannize them.
We need to remember that this was a piece of printed propaganda/public relations that was meant to be circulated and to persuade people to support the cause of independence. Therefore, it is partly a statement of political philosophy and partly a political advertisement for a particular cause.
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