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12AD.1.1 The Declaration of Independence (front)

Congress of the Confederation. 3/2/1781 - 3/4/1789
August 2, 1776
National Archives

Jefferson,Thomas et al., July 4, 1776 Engrossed Declaration of Independence. National Archives.

This document explains American revolutionaries’ grievances against the British Crown. It also justifies the rebellion that would grow into the American Revolution. It uses language from the Enlightenment that was articulated by intellectuals from the time, especially John Locke. The Declaration of Independence implicitly establishes how much power a government should have over its people, and how much power people should have over their government. Keep in mind that an independent United States had not yet been forged, but instead, that the ideals of the Revolutionaries reflected their own animosities toward their perceived ruler.

Much literature exists that contextualizes and annotates sentences in the Declaration of Independence. These deeper explanations of the historical significance of the sentences may be used in tandem with these excerpts. However, for the purpose of this inquiry set, focus students’ attention on searching for evidence that addresses the question, How much power should government have over its citizens? Students will find this evidence by locating the grievances that patriots had against the British government, and then inferring that patriots sought a government with maximum power for citizens and minimal — and especially more local — power for governments.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America...
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.—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 of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 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.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world ...
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers. ...
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. ...
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences. ...