Declaration of Independence

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 368

Since its creation in 1776, the Declaration of Independence has been considered the single most important expression of the ideals of U.S. democracy. As a statement of the fundamental principles of the United States, the Declaration is an enduring reminder of the country's commitment to popular government and equal rights for all.

The Declaration of Independence is a product of the early days of the Revolutionary War. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress?the legislature of the American colonies?voted for independence from Great Britain. It then appointed a committee of five?

JOHN ADAMS, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, THOMAS JEFFERSON, ROGER SHERMAN, and Robert R. Livingston?to draft a formal statement of independence designed to influence public opinion at home and abroad. Because of his reputation as an eloquent and forceful writer, Jefferson was assigned the task of creating the document, and the final product is almost entirely his own

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work. The Congress did not approve all of Jefferson's original draft, however, rejecting most notably his denunciation of the slave trade. Delegates from South Carolina and Georgia were not yet ready to extend the notion of inalienable rights to African Americans.

On July 4, 1776, the day of birth for the new country, the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS approved the Declaration of Independence on behalf of the people living in the American colonies. The Declaration served a number of purposes for the newly formed United States. With regard to the power politics of the day, it functioned as a propaganda statement intended to build support for American independence abroad, particularly in France, from which the Americans hoped to have support in their struggle for independence. Similarly, it served as a clear message of intention to the British. Even more important for the later Republic of the United States, it functioned as a statement of governmental ideals.

In keeping with its immediate diplomatic purposes, most of the Declaration consists of a list of 30 grievances against acts of the British monarch George III. Many of these were traditional and legitimate grievances under British CONSTITUTIONAL LAW. The Declaration firmly announces that British actions had established "an absolute Tyranny over these States." Britain's acts of despotism, according to the Declaration's list, included taxation of Americans without representation in Parliament...

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