Declaration of Independence

Are the Ideas of the Declaration of Independence still valid today?

How to write a document that would speak of the American spirit?
This was the quest of Thomas Jefferson as he sat down to write the
Declaration of Independence. Three hot weeks in Philadelphia later he
believed he accomplished that goal. The Declaration is considered to
be a statement of the spirit of the revolution and of the the
American people as a whole. A new nation was born of a new people. We
were no longer Englishmen, we were Americans.

The Declaration is divided into three basic segments:

1. An introduction with a statement of our philosophy.

  • Jefferson used the writings of John Locke as a basis of the
    philosophy behind the revolution. First Jefferson announces that
    it is neccesary to write a document when “it becomes necessary
    for one people to dissolve the political bands which have
    connected them to another
    .” He then declares that there are
    certain “truths.” “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
    .” Accordingly he
    continues to paraphrase Locke by discussing the concept of the
    social contract and the ensuing right to rebel. “That to secure
    these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving there
    just powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever and
    Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the
    right of the people to alter or to abolish it
    .” Thus Jefferson
    has laid a philosophical framework as the revolution as a “just.”

2. A list of grievances (Complaints)

  • In the second section Jefferson lists 27 grievances against
    the King to prove his supposition that the King has lost his right
    to rule by consent. Among these grievances he lists:
  • He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our
    towns, and destroyed the lives of our People.
  • He has erected a Multitude of New Offices, and sent
    hither Swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out
    their substance.
  • He has made Judges dependent on his will alone, for the
    Tenure of their offices and the Amount and Payment of their
  • He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing
    Armies, without the Consent of our Legislatures.
  • For cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the
  • For quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among
  • For imposing Taxes on us without our consent.
  • For depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of
    Trial by Jury.

There are more of course, but I’m sure you get the idea.

3. The third section is a final and formal “Declaration of
Independence.” In it Jefferson declares: “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;”


Nations come into being in many ways. Military
rebellion, civil strife, acts of heroism, acts of treachery, a
thousand greater and lesser clashes between defenders of the old
order and supporters of the new–all these occurrences and more have
marked the emergences of new nations, large and small. The birth of
our own nation included them all. That birth was unique, not only in
the immensity of its later impact on the course of world history and
the growth of democracy, but also because so many of the threads in
our national history run back through time to come together in one
place, in one time, and in one document: the Declaration of

Moving Toward Independence

The clearest call for independence up to the
summer of 1776 came in Philadelphia on June 7. On that date in
session in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall),
the Continental Congress heard Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read his
resolution beginning: “Resolved: 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.”

The Lee Resolution was an expression of what
was already beginning to happen throughout the colonies. When the
Second Continental Congress, which was essentially the government of
the United States from 1775 to 1788, first met in May 1775, King
George III had not replied to the petition for redress of grievances
that he had been sent by the First Continental Congress. The Congress
gradually took on the responsibilities of a national government. In
June 1775 the Congress established the Continental Army as well as a
continental currency. By the end of July of that year, it created a
post office for the “United Colonies.”

In August 1775 a royal proclamation declared
that the King’s American subjects were “engaged in open and avowed
rebellion.” Later that year, Parliament passed the American
Prohibitory Act, which made all American vessels and cargoes forfeit
to the Crown. And in May 1776 the Congress learned that the King had
negotiated treaties with German states to hire mercenaries to fight
in America. The weight of these actions combined to convince many
Americans that the mother country was treating the colonies as a
foreign entity.

One by one, the Continental Congress continued
to cut the colonies’ ties to Britain. The Privateering Resolution,
passed in March 1776, allowed the colonists “to fit out armed vessels
to cruize [sic] on the enemies of these United Colonies.” On April 6,
1776, American ports were opened to commerce with other nations, an
action that severed the economic ties fostered by the Navigation
Acts. A “Resolution for the Formation of Local Governments” was
passed on May 10, 1776.

At the same time, more of the colonists
themselves were becoming convinced of the inevitability of
independence. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, published in January 1776,
was sold by the thousands. By the middle of May 1776, eight colonies
had decided that they would support independence. On May 15, 1776,
the Virginia Convention passed a resolution that “the delegates
appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed
to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies
free and independent states.”

It was in keeping with these instructions that
Richard Henry Lee, on June 7, 1776, presented his resolution. There
were still some delegates, however, including those bound by earlier
instructions, who wished to pursue the path of reconciliation with
Britain. On June 11 consideration of the Lee Resolution was postponed
by a vote of seven colonies to five, with New York abstaining.
Congress then recessed for 3 weeks. The tone of the debate indicated
that at the end of that time the Lee Resolution would be adopted.
Before Congress recessed, therefore, a Committee of Five was
appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies’
case for independence.

The Committee of Five

The committee consisted of two New England men,
John Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut; two men
from the Middle Colonies, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and
Robert R. Livingston of New York; and one southerner, Thomas
Jefferson of Virginia. In 1823 Jefferson wrote that the other members
of the committee “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake
the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it
to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr.
Adams requesting their corrections. . . . I then wrote a fair copy,
reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the
Congress.” (If Jefferson did make a “fair copy,” incorporating the
changes made by Franklin and Adams, it has not been preserved. It may
have been the copy that was amended by the Congress and used for
printing, but in any case, it has not survived. Jefferson’s rough
draft, however, with changes made by Franklin and Adams, as well as
Jefferson’s own notes of changes by the Congress, is housed at the
Library of Congress.)

Jefferson’s account reflects three stages
in the life of the Declaration: the document originally written by
Jefferson; the changes to that document made by Franklin and Adams,
resulting in the version that was submitted by the Committee of Five
to the Congress; and the version that was eventually adopted.

On July 1, 1776, Congress reconvened. The
following day, the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12
of the 13 colonies, New York not voting. Immediately afterward, the
Congress began to consider the Declaration. Adams and Franklin had
made only a few changes before the committee submitted the document.
The discussion in Congress resulted in some alterations and
deletions, but the basic document remained Jefferson’s. The process
of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late
afternoon of July 4. Then, at last, church bells rang out over
Philadelphia; the Declaration had been officially adopted.

The Declaration of Independence is made
up of five distinct parts: the introduction; the preamble; the body,
which can be divided into two sections; and a conclusion. The
introduction states that this document will “declare” the “causes”
that have made it necessary for the American colonies to leave the
British Empire. Having stated in the introduction that independence
is unavoidable, even necessary, the preamble sets out principles that
were already recognized to be “self-evident” by most 18th- century
Englishmen, closing with the statement that “a long train of abuses
and usurpations . . . evinces a design to reduce [a people] 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.” The first section of the body of the Declaration gives
evidence of the “long train of abuses and usurpations” heaped upon
the colonists by King George III. The second section of the body
states that the colonists had appealed in vain to their “British
brethren” for a redress of their grievances. Having stated the
conditions that made independence necessary and having shown that
those conditions existed in British North America, the Declaration
concludes 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.”

 The Declaration of Independence
A Transcription

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

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 harass 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

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

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

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 complete 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 British 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

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