Understanding The Declaration Of Independence History Essay

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The United States Declaration of Independence that is a formal statement announcing the independence of the thirteen American colonies that were at war with Great Britain, was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson. Although the statement and the actual wording of the Declaration was adopted and approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which is the date in which America celebrates its birthday, Congress had actually voted to declare independence on July 2. The Declaration was issued in several forms after its finalization. It was originally published as a printed tirade that was broadly dispersed and read to the public. However, the most famous version of the Declaration that is the real Declaration is the signed copy on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Even though the wording was approved on July 4, the Declaration was not actually signed until August 2, 1776.

It was Thomas Jefferson's pen that wrote the Declaration of Independence, but who were its authors? The original Declaration was actually signed by fifty delegates to the Continental Congress, however, the document had greater influence past these signers. It is even wondered whether or not the Declaration of Independence contains original ideas. Jefferson describes it instead to be a statement of sentiments widely shared by supporters of the American Revolution. In 1825 Jefferson stated: "Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the America mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion." "TO HENRY LEE - Thomas Jefferson The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826; 1905)". The Online Library of Liberty. May 8, 1825. ………… The Declaration cannot be classified as having a single author, but more of having various influences. English political theorist John Locke is often cited as a primary influence on the Declaration. Many of the phrases evident in the Declaration follow closely to certain sentences in Locke's Second Treatise on Government. Locke's classical liberalism greatly influenced republicanism. Immediate sources of Influence for the Declaration of Independence include Jefferson's own draft of the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia and George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Both ideas and phrases from both of these documents appear in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson also looked at the English Declaration of Rights as a model of how to end the reign of an unjust king.

The Declaration of Independence provides for an abundance of interpretation and sources by scholarly inquiry. This formal document declared the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain by giving the colonial grievances of King George III, declaring natural rights, one of those being the right of revolution. The Declaration was originally disregarded after the American Revolution, having provided its primary intention in declaring independence. Its importance mature throughout history, especially the second sentence, an extensive proclamation of human rights: "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." This single sentence of proclaiming human rights has been noted as "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" and the most potent and consequential words in American history." This passage alone has been utilized in many aspects to support the rights of various groups, as well as symbolizing for people a just and honorable standard in which the United States should endeavor. This sentence in which most Americans live by was significantly influenced by Abraham Lincoln, who thought of the Declaration as being the underpinning of his political philosophy, and encouraged the proposal that the Declaration of Independence be a proclamation of standards through which the United States Constitution should be construed. Through this statement of natural rights Jefferson meant to release the idea that men are free by nature, are equal beings and should be free to pursue their dreams in life. This statement, however, was in disagreement with a majority of the thinking and reasoning of this time period, in that it was a ruler of a country, either king or an emperor, who passed down any rights given to the people of his kingdom. Thomas Jefferson disputed that it was nature that gave man rights, not people in power.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the principal authors of the Declaration of Independence was the third President of the United States and he was one of the most influential Founding Fathers for his encouragement of the principles of republicanism in the United States. He foresaw America as the power behind a great "Empire of Liberty" that would support republicanism and oppose the imperialism of the British Empire. Jefferson was attained distinction for numerous things including a horticulturist, political leader, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. He was a very honored man due to all of his accomplishments. When John F. Kennedy welcomed 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House-with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."……..

Thomas Jefferson favored the individual and their individual rights over the government and big businesses. His vision for American virtue included an agricultural nation of yeoman farmers minding their own affairs. His agrarianism was contrasting to the vision of Alexander Hamiltion, who envisioned a nation of commerce and manufacturing, which Jefferson believed offered too many temptations for corruption. Jefferson's profound confidence in the individuality, uniqueness, and the potential of America made him the father of American exceptionalism. He was particularly convinced that an under-populated America could avoid what he thought to be the horrors of class-divided, industrialized Europe. Jefferson strongly believed the idea in which each individual has "certain inalienable rights." This meaning, these rights exist with or without government, and man cannot create, take, or give these rights away. Jefferson is most noteworthy for enlightening the right of "liberty." "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual."……. Consequently, for Jefferson, although government cannot create a right to liberty, it can indeed violate it. The limit of an individual's rightful liberty is not what law says it is but is simply a matter of stopping short of prohibiting other individuals from having the same liberty. Jefferson believed a proper government to be one that not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individual liberty. His commitment to equality was articulated in his successful efforts to abolish primogeniture in Virginia, the rule by which the first born son inherited all the land. Jefferson believed that individuals have an innate sense of morality that prescribes right from wrong when dealing with other individuals, that whether they choose to restrain themselves or not, they have an innate sense of natural rights of others. He even believed that moral sense to be reliable enough that an anarchist society could function well, provided that it was reasonably small. In several instances, he conveyed admiration for the tribal, communal way of living of Native Americans. In a letter to Colonel Carrington he said: "I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government, enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments."….. For this reason, he did support government for the American stretch provided that it exists by "consent of the governed."

"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." These words written by Thomas Jefferson were immortalized by the success of the American Revolution. But they were by no means of any novelty on July 4, 1776. They were not produced out of Jefferson's originality or creativity. It is certainly true that his draft of the Declaration was born primarily from his own well-developed conceptions about government and its foundations, but he did not claim to be the source of inspiration for the thoughts he set down on paper. Some years after the Revolution, John Adams complained that Jefferson had written nothing new, to which Jefferson agreed. Jefferson was very familiar with earlier documents containing similar thoughts when he penned the Declaration, such as the piece by Samuel Adams entitled "Rights of the Colonists."All the political leaders of the Revolution were of one mind concerning the self-evident truths of the Declaration. Moreover, the thoughts expressed in the Declaration were shared by the colonists of the time. These thoughts were not reserved to an elite aristocracy that was removed and distant from the colonists. The Declaration was carefully expressed for the reason of representing the views of the colonists in general, and to win their adherence for the struggle ahead. It may be questioned how such claims were regarded by colonists in general and what the origins of such ideas are. In what documents preceding the Declaration were these beliefs presented as self-evident truths? In 1772, four years before the Declaration was signed, Samuel Adams wrote a short piece entitled "Rights of the Colonists as Men". His words included the following: Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these:

"First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property;

together with the right to support and defend them

in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of,

rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation,

commonly called the first law of nature. All men have a right

to remain in a state of nature as long as they please;

and in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious,

to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another.

When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent.…

Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the

nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains.

All positive and civil laws should conform, as far as possible,

to the law of natural reason and equity. As neither reason requires

nor religion permits the contrary, every man living in or out of

a state of civil society has a right peaceably and quietly

to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience."…………

The "Rights of the Colonists" was written when Samuel Adams had reached the age of 50, as a part of meetings in Massachusetts in 1772, after the Governor liquefied the colony's Colonial Assembly. Three hundred townspeople met and voted to appoint a committee of correspondence, and to have this committee draft a statement of the rights of the colonists. The responsibility for preparing the first draft was assigned to Samuel Adams. Excerpts from the result, as quoted above, were in essence utilized by the Continental Congress in 1774, in a document called the "Declaration of Rights", and finally in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence.

One of the influences on Adams' thought is openly stated by his own words in the "Rights of the Colonists" concerning religious toleration: "Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society." The link between Adams and John Locke is found more than once in Adams' writings. In 1771, in a publication in the Boston Gazette, he introduced his topic with the words "Mr. Locke, in his treatise on government." therefore, at the least, the political philosophy of John Locke was one of the foundations of the Declaration of Independence, and inquiry shows that the conception of inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness owe a great deal to John Locke's Second Treatise of Government published in 1690. The obligation to John Locke is revealed by the following excerpts from his Second Treatise. The title page says of the second treatise, "The latter is an essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government." The opening lines refer to the Biblical Adam and to his "private dominion and parental jurisdiction," given to him by God, which clearly marks the presentation as based ultimately on Scripture, God's Holy and Written Word. In sections 4, 6, and 13, Locke writes that:

(A)ll men are naturally in...a state of perfect freedom

to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions

and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds

of the law of nature, without asking leave,

or depending upon the will of any other man.


A state also of equality ... A state of liberty,

yet it is not a state of licence....

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it,

which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law,

teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being

equal and independent, no one ought to harm another

in his life, health, liberty, or possessions:

for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent,

and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one

sovereign master, sent into the world by his order,

and about his business; they are his property,

whose workmanship they are, made to last

during his, not one another's pleasure...

Every one...may not, unless it be to do justice

on an offender, take away, or impair the life,

or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty,

health, limb, or goods of another."

In summary concerning these passages from Locke's treatise, there exists a clearly identifiable conception of the rights of life, liberty, and property. Locke openly maintained that these rights were basic and fundamental rights of man, given by God the Creator. They are inalienable because they are established as part of the God-given law of nature, and thus are clear in very existence itself. In his frequent use of the phrase law of nature, Locke situated himself in a rich and time-honored tradition reaching back through history to the Bible itself. There is no doubt that Locke had in mind a Bible-centered view of the nature of man as created by God. One of the enumerated rights of the Declaration, pursuit of happiness, is not found as such in Locke, who used the word happiness only three times in the Second Treatise, in quite restricted contexts. Locke concentrated instead upon the right of property. The right to pursue happiness, which is much broader in scope, is traceable through the Federalist Papers of John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, written under the pseudonym Publius. Ultimately, the fullness of happiness as a concept will be seen in the abundant life promised to us through Jesus Christ.

Any discussion about the proper role of government can be improved by a look back to the ideas in which our nation was founded. In the Declaration of Independence, perhaps the most concise expression of those very ideas and beliefs can be found. The Declaration is apparent in that the Founders believed in individual liberty, defined by the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, secured by a government created for that purpose, gaining its legitimate power from the consent of the governed. The order of the words in the Declaration is important. By carefully reading the Declaration, one will notice that there is no mention of government until the moral order of the world the Founders envisioned is laid out. Their philosophy begins in a "state of nature," where no government has yet been created by human beings. It is not until after the moral order is established that the political order-- which comes from this moral order-- is discussed……………………….. discuss meaning of each part in life liberty pursuit happiness