United States Declaration of Independence Essay
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Declaring Our Independence
The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on July 4th, 1776. It was written by Thomas Jefferson and published by John Dunlap. After it was written it was sent to General George Washington to be read to his troops in New York who were getting ready to fight off the British army (Library of Congress).The Declaration of Independence has been around for almost two hundred and fifty years, many things have changed in this country in that amount of time.
Does the Declaration still hold the same values as it did back then, or has it evolved over time to have a different meaning? What was the purpose of the Declaration of Independence and why is it still looked upon so highly today? Was there more to the Declaration of Independence then just getting free from Britain or did it also lead the way to create America? All of these questions will be answered in the following paragraphs to have a better understanding of really how important one piece of paper can be to a nation.
A good way to start to understand what the Declaration means is by looking at the first few lines. “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve them with another 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 separation (US 1776).” This part of the Declaration of Independence is talking about how Britain became such a pain to the colonies with all of their taxes and their rules that the decision it was in their best interest to leave from the rule of Britain and form a new nation. Not only was this addressing those who called themselves Americans but all of mankind. They did this so that they could have more people able to assist them in the fighting of Britain (Library of Congress).
Britain was deeply in debt. Mercantilism was orthodoxy, and as such, the thought was that the colonies should contribute more to the common security of the realm (Halvorson). Another thing that Britain did to make the colonial settlers upset was that British soldiers were allowed to stay in any of the houses in the 13 colonies with little or no reason to why. It made Britain look very evil in the eyes of these settlers and the first paragraph of the Declaration reinforces this idea.
The second Paragraph of the Declaration of Independence might possibly have the single most important phrase in all of the united states. The first sentence contains the phrase “all men are created equal.” Now in 1776 this phrase was probably taken more literally meaning that all men would have rights and Jefferson wanted to exclude men and women. However, some argue that all men are talking about all of humanity. Numerous times thought out history important figures such Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Elizabeth Cady Stanton have referenced the Declaration of Independence when try to obtain equality for Women and African Americans. In 1857 Lincoln had mentioned that the assertion “all men are created equal” was of no practical use for separate from Great Britain and was placed in the Declaration for future use (Armitage 44). As well in the 19th century, the Declaration of sentiments played a key role in the women rights movement and almost mirrored the Declaration of Independence (Halvorson). Without those five small, but powerful words the United States would be a much different place then it is today. The meaning of the phrase has changed over time allowing even more than just men being equal. Today the United States of America tries to make everyone equal even if at times it might now seem that way. It didn’t have anything to do with trying to leave Britain, Jefferson put that phrase in there for the future of this country.
The Declaration of Independence gave some insight on the Idea of Popular Sovereignty. Popular sovereignty is the doctrine that sovereign power is vested in the people and that those chosen to govern, as trustees of such power, must exercise it in conformity with the general will. Basically, it means that the people can come up with the government and make it, however, the people want it to be. The Declaration gives the power to the people and not to the system that is governing them. “Governments are instituted among Men deriving their powers from the consent of the governed”(US 1776) Without this we might have formed a new government in the United States but it could have very well ended up as a monarchy. Popular sovereignty is key to making a peoples government and the Deceleration of Independence clearly reinforces this.
The Deceleration of Independence also informs the public of the Social Contract. The Social Contract is the agreement among individuals by which society becomes organized and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare. Both the government and the citizens are part of this social contract. The people be a part of the decisions and if they disagree with the government then they can just change it. “ 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”(US 1776). It seems in this day and age that people are afraid to stand up to the government and fight for what they believe in. Currently, many congressmen and congresswomen are being bought out to vote in certain ways over the topic of Net neutrality. It would be the people’s job to step up and talk with their representatives and show them what they are interested in and not let corporation buy out their representatives. The term natural and Induvial Rights also comes up in the Declaration of Independence. These are rights that all people should have. These rights include life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They share the values of freedom equality and justice. No one should be able to take these rights from people, and it is up to the government to make sure that the people’s rights are protected. Without the government to protect the rights of the people things would start to fall apart for society. “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”(US 1776). These are what are also known as the Universal truths and over the course of the next two decades, America would try to help other countries around the worlds come to have similar Universal truths as to what is stated in the Declaration of Independence.
Not only was the Declaration important in assisting the start of this nation and help to fight for freedom of Brittan’s monarchy, it is also used today to influences modern American political culture. One way it has influenced political culture is it has caused us many reasons why America chooses to go to war with countries who might seem like the people are being oppressed in some way by the government. America looks on to the Declaration as a sort of moral compass when it comes to deciding whether or not it is right to go into other countries and try to abolish any oppression that is going on. As a continuing inspiration in the United States and throughout the world to end oppression and to make sure that all groups of people enjoy a self-government and representation of both their collective interests and their personal freedom (Pencak 234).
Today more than ever you will see this power abused by people in America to try to gain more than just helping an oppressed people. If you look at wars today that the United States are involved in some of them are masked by the idea that these groups of people are not free and do not have access to the natural rights that the Declaration of Independence refers too. Instead, you have people who are fighting over others natural resources and land first and the rights of the people come second or don’t even come at all. The same ideologies that this country was built on are now being using selfishly into a power grab for land and money from other countries.
The Declaration\’s aspirational vision has had a remarkable influence on American notions of liberal equality, even in the days when only white males could formally participate in politics (Tsesis 698). It has also been referenced a lot in current social movements today. Groups such as Black Lives Matter and Arab spring and Tiananmen Square openly and repeatedly invoke in the Language and the ideals of the document (Halvorson). This shows how the Declaration can be used as a voice for the minority groups in America to help end the oppression that they might be facing.
In conclusion, the Declaration of Independence is a lot more than some old piece of paper written by a bunch of old white guys. It is more than that, it is many things. It was a letter to the British telling them that they don’t wish to be a part of their empire anymore. It was a way to bring hope to the oppressed and way to make sure that one day everyone in the nation and even on the earth was treated equally. Over time it has been used for good by the majority of people and some have even used it to justify bad doings. Overall the Declaration was important in the forming of America and is important for what the country should form into of the course of time. It was tough for the founding fathers to frame what society would look like in the next couple of decades but they did a great job in laying the bricks for the path they wanted the country to become. Without the Declaration of Independence America could still be under the rule of the British. Women would not have as many rights as they do now, slavery could very well be a thing in this country without this document. The world would be a much different place then what it is today. It is nowhere near perfect but it is the Declaration of Independence that pushed everyone in the world a little bit closer in the right direction towards freedom.
Armitage, David. “The Declaration of Independence and International Law.” Foundations of Modern International Thought, Jan. 2002, pp. 191–214., doi:10.1017/cbo9781139032940.017.
Halvorson, Seth D. “Historical Context for the Declaration of Independence.” Columbia College, www.college.columbia.edu/core/content/american-revolution-and-founding-texts/context.
Pencak, William. “The Declaration of Independence: Changing Interpretations and a New Hypothesis.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 57, no. 3, 1 July 1990, pp. 225–235. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/27773386?ref=search-gateway:db0ae02fe1b84f163f034404f6687764.
“Creating the United States Creating the Declaration of Independence.” All Men Are Created Equal – Creating the Declaration of Independence – Creating the United States | Exhibitions – Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/interactives/declaration-of-independence/equal/index.html
“Creating the United States Creating the Declaration of Independence.” Index of Documents for All Men Are Created Equal – Creating the Declaration of Independence – Creating the United States | Exhibitions – Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/exhibits/creating-the-united-states/interactives/declaration-of-independence/equal/documents.html.
The Declaration of Independence: Full Text.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.
Tsesis, Alexander. “Self-Government and the Declaration of Independence”, 97 Cornell L. Rev. 693 (2012) http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/clr/vol97/iss4/1