Read the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was more a process than a moment in history. This act of treason against an empire sparked the Revolutionary War and, eventually, the United States of America. It is not, and has never been, a law, but it is worth reading.
Thomas Jefferson and a committee of colleagues drafted the Declaration in Philadelphia throughout the spring and summer of 1776. The Second Continental Congress approved it on July 4, 1776. They declared their independence from British rule and their intent to create a new nation. No one had ever dared to try such a bold move. Delegates from all of the original 13 colonies, except New York, adopted the Declaration on that day. They did not actually sign the final version until August 2, 1776. Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.
Purpose of the Declaration
Despite what many Americans believe, the Declaration of Independence is not, and has never been, a law. It was a statement from the Continental Congress to King George III, notifying the king that they were seceding from the empire and listing their reasons for doing so. The king was not pleased. This act of treason sparked the Revolutionary War and, eventually, the United States of America.
The United States operated under the Articles of Confederation during and immediately after the war. In order to strengthen the federal government, Congress presented the United States Constitution to the states on September 17, 1787. It took effect with ratification on June 21, 1788. It is the oldest continuously functioning constitution in the world and is the basis for every law in the United States. It includes many of the principles stated in the Declaration.
The Declaration and the Constitution are on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, most schools do an abysmal job of teaching American history and civics. Consequently, most Americans think we have legal rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. We do not. That phrase is in the Declaration, not the Constitution. There is no such law.
Few Americans have read the Declaration, but it’s well worth your time. I know. You’ve always meant to read it “someday”. This is your chance. While you’re attending parades, eating hot dogs, and watching fireworks this weekend, please take a moment to reflect on what this means to you. It’s worth it. Enjoy!
The Declaration of Independence
WHEN in the Course of human Events,
it becomes necessary for one People
to dissolve the Political Bands
which have connected them with another,
and 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 the Separation.
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.
There follows a list of 27 specific complaints against the King and the British government.
And the Declaration concludes . . .
We, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
in General Congress, Assembled,
appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World
for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do,
in the Name,
and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies,
solemnly Publish and Declare,
That these United Colonies are,
and of Right ought to be,
FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES,
that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown,
and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain,
is and ought to be totally dissolved;
and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES,
they have full Power to levy War,
and to do all other Acts and Things
which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do.
And for the support of this Declaration,
with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence,
we mutually pledge to each other
our Lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Fifty-six convention delegates signed this declaration on August 2, 1776.
Teach your children.