The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE Topic #4 Historical Circumstances The Continental Congresses were ad hoc meetings of delegates from each of the several American colonies to deliberate on matters of common concern. The First Continental Congress met in 1774. The Second Continental Congress first met in 1775. In 1776 it drafted and voted on the Declaration of Independence. Congress appointed a committee to draft such a document. John Adams was the chair of the committee and Thomas Jefferson was a member. Adams delegated to Jefferson the task of writing a first draft. Jeffersons draft was revised a bit in committee and further revised by Congress as a whole. The Declaration was enacted on July 4, 1776. [Adams and Jefferson subsequently were estranged due to political

conflicts but reconciled later in life. They both died on July 4, 1826.] The Second Continental Congress remained in session until 1781 and organized the revolutionary war effort against the British. The British did find the Declaration entirely persuasive. Structure of Declaration Preamble: 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.

Statement of Political Philosophy: We hold these truths to be selfevident: 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. Structure of Declaration (cont.) Charges against the King: The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] 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. [27 specific charges taking up about 75% of the document] Conclusion: 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. . . . They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, . . . solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States. . . . The Logic of the Declaration

The Declaration does not specify a proper form of government. The (logically interconnected) criteria for judging whether a government is normatively legitimate or not are whether it is based on the consent of the governed, and whether it acts to secure peoples natural rights. Therefore, the Declaration does not condemn monarchy per se. Otherwise, a Prince [of any character] could never be the ruler of a free people, and there would be no need to come up with 27 charges against the King. Also, the Declaration can be used to condemn a democratic governments that abridges, rather than secures, natural rights. Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.

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