What were some main ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence?

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to the important ideas expressed above, the Declaration contains a few other important ideas. 

First, the Declaration contains the idea that if the government must be overthrown, a new government must be set up to safeguard the first three conditions, equality, God-given rights of the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  In other words, contained within the Declaration is the idea that a subsequent revolution must incorporate the principles of the first revolution, not simply be a justification to devolve into anarchy or some form of despotism.

Second, the Declaration cautions us that a subsequent revolution may not be undertaken lightly, that only when "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism" would another revolution be justified.

Finally, the Declaration contains a long list of what a ruler should not do, essentially to justify the revolution.  There are 26 items on the list, which includes the major offenses of the king, for example, abolishing laws enacted within the colonies and taxing the colonies without their consent. Most of what is contained within the original United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which comprises the first ten Amendments of the Constitution, reflects the founding fathers' determination to not do what King George did! 

So, in addition to providing a declaration of independence and outlining the God-given rights people are entitled to, the document contains a justification for the actions to be taken and a very long list of what to avoid in the new nation. 

Further Reading:
thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Declaration of Independence expresses important ideas related to sovereignty and justice. As mentioned above, the ideas of equality amongst mankind and his God given rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are discussed precisely. According to the declaration, the government, with the mandate of the people, is responsible for the protection of those rights. However, it has been pointed out that in the event that the government infringes on these rights and abuses the power bestowed upon it by the people, they have the power to disband that particular government and constitute another that adheres to its purpose.

Also, the declaration highlights the idea of autocracy. The thirteen America colonies have undergone untold suffering under the rule of the then king of Britain. Their God given rights have been denied and their pleas for justice have been ignored. These conditions thus necessitated for the colonies to declare their autonomy as States and denounce the autocratic leadership that was imposed on them by Great Britain.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most important ideas in the Declaration are found early in the document.  In that part of the document, Jefferson is spelling out the theory that allowed the colonists to claim that they had the right to rebel against England.  These ideas include:

  • All men are created equal
  • All men have basic human rights given to them by God
  • The only reason to have a government is to protect these basic human rights, which Jefferson lists as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
  • Government must be by the consent of the governed.
  • If these last two conditions are not met, the people have the right to rebel against and overthrow their government.

Here's a short video about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence: