No discussion of Independence Day in the United States of America would be complete without talking about the document. The Declaration of Independence is more than a historical document. It is not a law or set of laws. It’s a statement of ideology. An ideology of truth, honor, and independence. An ideology that is controversial at times. And one of the documents that all Americans should know and study. Yet few of us know more than the famous lines and many argue over the meaning of specific words and phrases.
If your memory is spotty, or you don’t know if you’ve read the document, take a moment to listen or read the Declaration of Independence.
On July 4, 1776, the Second Congression Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. Yet, most of the delegates had not signed it until later. Did you know that eight of the fifty-six delegates who signed the declaration were born in Great Britain?
There are four major points covered by the Declaration.
- That All men have equal and God-given rights,
- When a government must be overthrown and a new government must be set up,
- When another revolution may be justified,”
- And the declaration that we are free and a pledge to each other and their idea.
Let’s discuss that first point.
All Men Are Created Equal
The All men have equal rights is the most discussed sentence in the Declaration. Arguments abound about what Jefferson meant by “all men.”
According to some, one should take that statement in its historical context. They think that “men” means only white males. These, usually white males, point out blacks were slaves, women had societal and political constraints, and native Indians were considered savages. They aren’t wrong about the societal and legal assigns given to blacks, women, and native Indians. And yet, further down in the document is this sentence:
“He (King George) 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.”
“All ages, sexes, and conditions.” The implication is that all people have a right to live. Perhaps the signers of the Declaration considered other ages, sexes, and conditions were their property. Or could they have meant the right to live applied to all ages, sexes, and conditions?
The signers of the Declaration left an ambiguous legacy about slavery. In his initial draft, Thomas Jefferson condemned the injustice of the slave trade. The Southern delegates would not agree to that paragraph. It was taken out in favor of unity over the Declaration.
All Are Not Equal
Jefferson blamed the presence of enslaved Africans in North America on avaricious British colonial policies. Unfortunately, he also believed that blacks were inferior and should be removed from the colonies. A total of forty-nine of the signers owned slaves at some point in their lives. One signer made a fortune off of selling slaves. Yet, by 1870, the Northern States had abolished slavery. George Washington was the only Southerner signer who freed his slaves (upon his death).
Unfortunately, equality for all men (women, races, ethnicities, etc.) has not been achieved in the USA. Yet. It is something to strive for, to fight for, as we go forward.
When Government Fails in its Duty
If the government fails in its duty the government must be overthrown and a new government must be set up by the people who have a right to revolt.
If the government fails in its duty is another phrase that requires some thought. What duty? The paragraph that follows explains. Governments secure the rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They get the right and power to govern from the consent of the governed. And when any form of government becomes destructive of those rights, it is the right, and the duty, of the people to alter or abolish that government.
Another Revolution May Be Justified
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.
Note, they say a long train of abuses and usurpations. They go further to say that “light and transient (or temporary) abuses are not a reason to overthrow an established government.” What follows is a list of the abuses and illegal seizures of rights and property that the colonies have endured at the hands of the King of Great Britain. All people would do well to study this list. There are lessons and parallels to be had if you look.
Absolving and Pledging
“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”
They follow this statement of intention with a pledge.
“We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
What’s significant here is the abolishment of allegiance to the British crown. The pledge tugs at my heartstrings. These were men aged 26 to 70 years. They were landholders, doctors, lawyers, farmers, merchants—men who had things to lose. One-third of them served in the militia. Seven of them suffered losses (from war wounds to imprisonment and torture to loss of lands and fortune). None of them died as a direct result of the war.
What I Believe
I am not a historian nor a student of politics. But I am hugely interested in my country, in the ideal of equal rights for all people, and I believe in truth, honor, and independence. I hope this brief examination of the Declaration of Independence has inspired you to think about the document. If you found it interesting, please leave a comment below.
The Declaration of Independence is imperfect, as were the founders of this country. Yet, this document inspires with great heart, and spirit, and hope. We can, and should, keep working to improve ourselves and our country. We should all aspire to believe in truth, honor, and independence–