The Declaration of Independence

by Thomas Jefferson
Start Free Trial

What does the Declaration of Independence say?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Declaration begins by describing the purpose of government. It argues that all men have basic rights, and that the purpose of government is to protect these rights--"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It further says that if governments, which are established by men, fail to uphold these rights,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The Declaration begins by describing the purpose of government. It argues that all men have basic rights, and that the purpose of government is to protect these rights--"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It further says that if governments, which are established by men, fail to uphold these rights, then it is the right of the people to "alter or abolish" those governments. It then proceeds to list a series of grievances against the King, who is made to stand for all of Great Britain. It accuses him of taxing the colonies without their consent, of raising slaves and Native Americans up to fight against the colonists, of dissolving assemblies and failing to approve laws that would be good for the colonists, among many other accusations. Because the king had violated their rights in these ways, the colonies assert that they will, through the delegates chosen to attend the Continental Congress, declare their independence from Britain, and that the Declaration is their formal announcement of this action to the world. So, very briefly, it is an assertion of rights, a statement of the foundations of government, a list of the ways in which the king had violated their rights, and a formal declaration of independence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Declaration says many things, but it can basically be divided into a few key parts. The first states the reasons for writing the document, namely to tell mankind why the Americans are declaring independence. This is followed by a statement of the purpose of government and an assertion of the right of revolution when government fails to live up to that purpose, namely the protection of "unalienable rights". The third, and longest section, is a list of accusations against King George III. Essentially the Declaration held him responsible for violating their rights, which was, as I mentioned above, their justification for revolution. In the final section of the document, the signers announced that all political connections were dissolved between Great Britain and its former colonies, and pledged themselves to bringing about independence. Many people after the fact have read the Declaration as a kind of "statement of principles" of the new nation, but this is not really how it was read at the time. For a copy of the Declaration itself, see the link below.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team