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Declaration Of Independence Essay

1273 words - 6 pages

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee proposed a resolution to the Continental Congress stating that "these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States." Four days later Congress appointed a committee to draft a declaration embodying the intent of the resolution. The committee, consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, pressed on Jefferson the task of writing their report. On June 28 the committee submitted to Congress "A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled." The Congress passed Lee's original resolution on July 2, thus deciding in favour of ...view middle of the document...

A few scholars have claimed that Jefferson relied heavily on a handful of eighteenth-century Scottish philosophers, notably Francis Hutcheson, for many of the key ideas. More believe that John Locke exercised a predominant influence over Jefferson's thinking; many of the words in the opening paragraphs of the declaration closely resemble passages from Locke's "Two Treatises of Government". Jefferson himself did not credit any particular philosopher but claimed his aim was to "place before mankind the common sense of the subject" and to make the declaration "an expression of the American mind." For the document to serve its purpose, Jefferson had to draw together ideas in common currency, whatever their source. The declaration is a powerful and incisive summary of Whig political thought to which Locke and many others had contributed.The most perplexing word in the declaration is equality. How could the slaveholders in Congress have embraced an idea so out of keeping with the realities of bound labor in America? Jefferson and the committee implicitly recognized the contradiction by including in the original draft a charge that the king had "waged a cruel war against human nature" by assaulting a "distant people" and "captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere." Although Jefferson deflected guilt from the colonists to the monarch, the words offended southern delegates, especially those from South Carolina, who were unwilling to countenance any acknowledgment that slavery violated the "most sacred rights of life and liberty." The price of their endorsement of the declaration was removal of the slavery passage, foreshadowing the repeated compromises with slavery that were made after independence was achieved. The word equality remained, however, and eventually, after immense cost to the nation and thousands of blighted lives, it triumphed over the slave power.The significance of the declaration's fundamental principles came to be understood only as American history unfolded. At the time, Congress was as concerned with the charges brought against the king as with ideas of political philosophy. The list of his tyrannical acts constitutes the bulk of the declaration, and Congress devoted more attention to amending these charges than polishing the statement of principles. The indictment of the king assumed importance because the colonists previously had directed their criticism against Parliament or the king's ministers, not against the king himself. Protests against royal government customarily began with an assertion of loyalty to the monarch. He was the friend of the people amid their many enemies. In constitutional terms, the most radical revolutionaries asked only that the king treat their assemblies as the sovereign legislatures for the colonies, just as Parliament was for England....

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