Every Fourth of July as we fire up our grills, bask in the sun, and watch fireworks it's important to remember what we are celebrating. The significance of the Declaration of Independence has transcended its original purpose, and now serves as a human rights beacon across the globe. Nowadays, the Declaration of Independence has set the foundations of our country through the use of groundbreaking ideas about equality and freedom. Originally, it was not quite so. The original purpose of the Declaration was to declare to the world the intent of the colonies to break away from Great Britain and the reasons why.
With an outline of directions from Congress, Thomas Jefferson was tasked with the job of drafting the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson understood that it was necessary for him to capture the political ideas in the colonies at the time so as to draw as much support for the Declaration as possible. For this reason, Jefferson imbued the document with political ideas that were not all original. Jefferson’s biggest inspirations came from the philosopher thinkers John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
From Locke, Jefferson drew what is arguably the most memorable statement in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. He further drew the idea that all people have God given rights. From Rousseau, Jefferson drew the ideas that the power of government comes from the consent of the people and when the government does not protect the God given rights of the people, the people have a right to rebel.
The document of the Declaration of Independence is broken into four parts. The first sentence of the Declaration explains the point of the document. One of the most eloquently written sentences in human history boils down to one simple point, to declare independence from Great Britain.
The second paragraph of the document is the one that its best known for. It is the philosophical part that everyone quotes and has become one of the fundamental principles of our government. “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.” At the time of its writing this sentence was used as the source of authority for which the Colonies could claim independence. It draws its inspiration from the Locke, who explained that men had the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and property.” With this sentence Jefferson seeks to create a hierarchy of authority, in that equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are God given rights. Being so, they cannot be taken away by any man, king or otherwise, and are to be exercised at every opportunity as one sees fit. In the next sentence, Jefferson further emphasizes the importance of these God given rights, by claiming that government only exists to protect these unalienable rights. Jefferson also implements Rousseau’s idea that the power to govern comes only from the consent of the people. In the third sentence of the paragraph, Jefferson states that when a government has failed to protect a people's unalienable rights, the people retain the right to abolish their government and can create a new government to better serve them in protecting their rights. This proposition is further reinforced further in the paragraph. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, . . . it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” Following that, Jefferson claims King George III and Great Britain have not respected the rights of the people.
The third part of the document levels charges against the King of Great Britain. It is a list of grievances whose charges, the colonists claim, show how the King has failed at protecting the colonists God given rights. These violations, the colonists allege, give reason as to why the Colonies are breaking away from Great Britain. These charges are taken from Jefferson’s own draft of the Virginia Constitution, reworded and listed differently. Jefferson aims to present them to world as the reason why the Colonies are rebelling.
The fourth and final part of the document is a declaration that the Colonies are free from the rule of Great Britain. That they sever any ties of authority to the country and become independent. In doing so, the Colonies assume a united sovereign identity and accordingly, grant themselves the powers necessary to any independent country.
In the modern world the Declaration of Independence has become more than a document stating the why a territory is breaking away from another country to become its own country. The Declaration has become our nation's creed. That all men are created equal. It has inspired the ideas for what America stands for and represents. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It has helped placed boundaries on the power of government. Lastly, it has cited the source of power of our government, the consent of the people.
Ertis currently attends the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. As an immigrant from Albania, Ertis has a profound admiration of U.S. History and Constitutional Law. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History with a minor in Political Science from Wayne State University. Following law school, Ertis aspires to practice contract and corporate law.