What do the writers of the Declaration of Independence highlight as the chief causes for the Revolution? What it meant by "Laws of Nature," "self-evident truths," and "unalienable rights" in...

What do the writers of the Declaration of Independence highlight as the chief causes for the Revolution? What it meant by "Laws of Nature," "self-evident truths," and "unalienable rights" in paragraphs 1-2? Do these rights extend to all parts of the population? Comment on the document’s style of writing (rhetoric). What makes the text convincing/effective?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, which are called the Introduction and Preamble, the writers explain the chief causes of the Revolution. The writers state that they are breaking away from Great Britain to have access to "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them." This is a reference by natural law, an Enlightenment concept that declared that people have rights that they are born with (as opposed to human law, which are laws made by a certain society). 

Then comes the famous line: 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The term "self-evident" means that the statement does not to be proved. Instead, it follows from natural law that people are born with unalienable rights, which means rights that no government can take away. The idea of unalienable rights is connected to the idea of natural rights. During the Enlightenment, the idea of unalienable rights was extended to mean that rulers have to have the consent of the governed through the social contract. The phrase "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" comes from John Locke's idea that the government should protect life, liberty, and property. The second part of this paragraph revolves around the idea of the social contract. Since the king has violated his subjects' natural rights, they can overthrow him and establish a new government. The writers state that they are not throwing off the old government lightly but because they are living under "despotism." These rights did not extend to everyone in society at the time, as slaves and other people in the colonies (women, Native Americans, and others) were not granted the same rights as white men with property. For example, generally only white men with property could vote, even following the American Revolution.

In the next paragraph, the writers go on to list all the ways the king has violated the social contract. The rhetoric is effective because it follows the form of a legal indictment. It lays out the laws by which the colonists are going to indict the king and then lists the indictments against him.