The Declaration of Independence

by Thomas Jefferson

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What does the Declaration of Independence state?

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First of all, you can read the Declaration of Independence for yourself to see exactly what it has to say.  There is a link to the Declaration below this answer.  If you examine the Declaration carefully, you will find that there are five sections in the document.  Each has a slightly different purpose.

The first section is generally called the Preamble.  This paragraph (it is actually just one very long sentence) gives the purpose of the Declaration.  It says that the colonies are planning to separate themselves from Britain and that they owe it to the world to explain why they are going to do that.

The second section lays out the political philosophy behind the Americans’ desire for independence.  It says that government should only exist in order to preserve its citizens’ God-given rights.  It says that governments are only legitimate if they exist by the consent of their people.  Finally, it says that if a government does not exist by the consent of the people and/or does not protect their rights, the people have the right to break away from that government.  This is the most famous section of the Declaration.

The third section is something of a propaganda section.  This section lays out the colonies’ grievances with the British government, blaming them all on the King himself.  It claims that the King has done all sorts of things to abuse the rights of the colonists.  This section is meant to show that the British government has not been protecting the rights of its people.

The fourth section is meant to make the colonists look good.  It asserts that the colonists have done everything they could to try to patch things up with the British.  Finally, the fifth section (another very long sentence) sums up and formally declares that the colonies are declaring independence for the reasons already given in the rest of the document.

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What does the Declaration of Independence say?

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.

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What does the Declaration of Independence say?

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.

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