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Declaration of Independence

Posted Wednesday, September 29, 2010, at 12:49 AM

Image taken from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_zoom_2.html
I have decided to take a small break from the political side of life and instead focus on the history side of life (my true passion). I do not know how many parts there will be, but this is Part I

The Declaration of Independence is considered to be one our Charters of Freedom. It is one of three documents that defined our Founding Fathers and what they intended our country to be. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood and misquoted documents from the founding time. When asked what the opening phrase of the Declaration is, most people will answer "We the People" or "We hold these truths to be self evident" or even "All men are created equal".

Though two of the three above are in the Declaration (We the People is of course from the Constitution) none of them are correct. The correct opening phrase is "When in the Course of human events,..." The Declaration is an oddity in that it has two preambles, the first starting with "When in the Course ..." the second containing the phrase everyone knows by heart, "All men are created equal" and "unalienable Rights ... Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness."

The phrase "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" are taken from John Locke. He originally coined the phrase, "Life, Liberty, and Property". Jefferson, obviously changed the last part. The mystery here is "Why did he change it from Property to Pursuit of Happiness"? The truth is no one knows. Jefferson never wrote down the reasons why. We can debate the reason and we can debate what pursuit of happiness actually means, but I would like to concentrate on the document itself.

Thomas Jefferson in crafting this document was not coming up with a new idea. What he was doing was listing charges against the British Parliament and more specifically the King of England. At the time the Declaration was written the colonies had been at war with England for a little over a year (another misconception being that the Declaration was the start of the war).

In the preceding decade; Britain, France, the colonies, and Native Americans had been part of the Seven Years War that had spread over every continent. The portion of fighting that happened on this continent became known as The French and Indian War. During this war the British essentially left the colonists to fend for themselves. Over the next decade as the colonists learned that they could, indeed, fend for themselves they started to become more and more powerful.

The Parliament, seeing this happening, began imposing taxes and levies against the colonies. The colonists wanted to remain British subjects but they wanted changes. They implored the King for help but he largely ignored their pleas.

The war, by 1775, had become inevitable. Colonists, however, really did not want to fight the Crown, they just wanted changes.

By the time the Declaration of Independence was written the colonists had reached a point of no return. There was going to be a new country formed at the end of this war and it was time to let the King know.

At the time, though, there had been hundreds if not thousands of Declarations written. Jefferson's stood out as it was more of a rallying cry to the colonists then a direct charge at the King. When presented with Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, King George scoffed and threw it away.

When the colonists read it though, it had a profound effect on them and the tide of the war actually began to change.

The Declaration of Independence

FULL TEXT from Charters of Freedom website

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1


Button Gwinnett

Lyman Hall

George Walton

Column 2

North Carolina:

William Hooper

Joseph Hewes

John Penn

South Carolina:

Edward Rutledge

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.

Arthur Middleton

Column 3


John Hancock


Samuel Chase

William Paca

Thomas Stone

Charles Carroll of Carrollton


George Wythe

Richard Henry Lee

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Harrison

Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Carter Braxton

Column 4


Robert Morris

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Franklin

John Morton

George Clymer

James Smith

George Taylor

James Wilson

George Ross


Caesar Rodney

George Read

Thomas McKean

Column 5

New York:

William Floyd

Philip Livingston

Francis Lewis

Lewis Morris

New Jersey:

Richard Stockton

John Witherspoon

Francis Hopkinson

John Hart

Abraham Clark

Column 6

New Hampshire:

Josiah Bartlett

William Whipple


Samuel Adams

John Adams

Robert Treat Paine

Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:

Stephen Hopkins

William Ellery


Roger Sherman

Samuel Huntington

William Williams

Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire:

Matthew Thornton

Showing comments in chronological order
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Thank you Mike. Now, we need a Locke or Jefferson, to author a Declaration of Reunification, with another text that will Set the Bit in our mouths, and turn our heads back to the Precepts intended by our Founding Fathers.

But, alas, I fear modern living may well have taken the back-bone from our patriotism and watchfulness against destroyers from without, and within.

History may not be too kind to what we have been allowing to be done, since the opening of the Twentieth Century (1900 + - ). What we have today has been eroding into place far longer than any of us have occupied space on Planet Earth. We inherit the Whirl-Wind, I fear.

Keep the Watch, as Redemption draws nigh. Arley

-- Posted by Navyblue on Wed, Sep 29, 2010, at 8:01 PM

You need to add a lot more names to that list than just Locke and Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson pulled from many sources.

-- Posted by MichaelHendricks on Wed, Sep 29, 2010, at 9:29 PM

Not to mention that the term "founding fathers" itself is broadly based.

-- Posted by MichaelHendricks on Thu, Sep 30, 2010, at 5:47 AM

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