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3.3: The Declaration of Independence

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Declaration of Independence

Source: The Declaration of Independence is a statement approved by representatives of the 13 colonies. The representatives, called the Continental Congress, met in Philadelphia. The Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776.(Figure below.

The Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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 to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated abuses intended to establish tyranny over the colonies. To prove this, let facts be submitted:

(1 & 2) He has refused to pass, and forbidden his governors to pass, important and necessary laws.

(3 & 4) He has insisted that certain large districts give up their right to representation; in other districts, he has insisted that the legislature meet in uncomfortable, and distant places, so that they won’t oppose him.

(5 & 6) He has broken up certain legislatures that opposed him, and refused to let others be elected.

(8 & 9) He has refused to establish courts of justice, and has made judges dependent on him for their jobs and salaries.

(10) He has sent swarms of British officers to harass our people and eat our food.

(11 & 12) He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures; he has tried to make the military independent of, and superior to, the local, civil power.

(14 & 15) For keeping large bodies of armed troops among us; For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the colonists;

(16) For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;

(17) For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

(18) For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

(21) For abolishing our most valuable laws, and fundamentally changing the forms of our governments;

(23 & 24) He is waging war against us; He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

(27) He has started fights among us and has also forced us to live near merciless Indian savages, who only destroy all ages, sexes, and conditions.

(28) He has ignored all of our humble efforts to address these problems.

Vocabulary

self-evident
obvious
endowed
given
inalienable
cannot be taken away
to secure
to get
instituted
established
deriving
getting
consent
agreement

Questions

For questions 1 and 2, restate the indicated paragraph in your own words.

  1. We believe in these obvious truths: that all men are created equal, that they....
  2. In order to protect these rights, governments are set up. These governments get their powers from....
  3. Close Reading: Do these grievances seem to be things that upset rich people, or both rich and poor?
  4. Do you think these complaints would give people reason to go to war and possibly die? Why or why not?

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution – Bernard Bailyn

Source: Excerpt from a book by historian Bernard Bailyn. The book, published in 1967, is called The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.

The Declaration of Independence represents the colonists’ deepest fears and beliefs. The colonists believed they saw a clear pattern in the events that followed 1763. They believed they saw an evil and deliberate conspiracy to crush liberty in America. They saw evidence of this conspiracy in the Stamp Act and in the Coercive Acts.

They also believed that America was destined to play a special role in history. They believed that America would become “the foundation of a great and mighty empire, the largest the world ever saw to be founded on such principles of liberty and freedom, both civil and religious.” The colonists believed that England was trying to enslave them, and that they should use “all the power which God has given them” to protect themselves.

Questions:

  1. Close Reading: What does Bailyn think the Declaration of Independence represents? What evidence does he use to support his claims?

A People’s History of the United States - Howard Zinn

Source: Excerpt from A People’s History of the United States, which was published in 1980 by historian Howard Zinn.

It seemed clear to the educated, upper-class colonists that something needed to be done to persuade the lower class to join the revolutionary cause, to direct their anger against England. The solution was to find language inspiring to all classes, specific enough in its listing of grievances to fill people with anger against the British, vague enough to avoid class conflict, and stirring enough to build patriotic feelings.

Everything the Declaration of Independence was about – popular control over governments, the right of rebellion and revolution, fury at political tyranny, economic burdens, and military attacks – was well suited to unite large numbers of colonists and persuade even those who had grievances against one another to turn against England.

Some Americans were clearly omitted from those united by the Declaration of Independence: Indians, black slaves, and women.

Questions:

  1. Close Reading: What does Zinn think the Declaration of Independence represents? What evidence does he use to support his claims?

Section Questions:

  1. Which historian, Bailyn or Zinn, do you find more convincing? Why?

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