The Declaration of Independence

by Thomas Jefferson

Start Free Trial

Why do the signers of the Declaration of Independence proclaim people's equality as "self-evident" and their rights as "unalienable"?

Expert Answers

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

The Declaration of Independence consists of three parts. The first part contains the language on the equality of all the people. Where did these powerful phrases come from?

The signers of the Declaration were influenced by John Locke's social contract theory. In 1689, Locke published his Second Treatise on Government: Government was to be based on a contract between the rulers and the people they governed. Locke was not the only author of these ideas, and other great thinkers—like Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—wrote about a social contract, too. The main idea is that government power is not absolute and the consent of the people is essential. Prior to this, kings had usually enjoyed unlimited power, the so-called Divine Right of Kings. The authors of the Declaration believed that people had a "natural right" to a government based on a contract.

Howard Zinn (1922–2010) criticized the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson had written a paragraph condemning the slave trade, but it was deleted. Zinn noted that black slaves, Indians, and women were excluded from these rights. Zinn also argued that the Declaration was meant to uphold the property rights of the moneyed interests.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial