The Declaration of Independence was written for the colonists, to justify our call to arms, and to Britain’s enemies, to assure them of our intent.
Update: Read the Declaration of Independence while you still can. Apparently Facebook recently censored a portion of its publication as “hate speech.”
Historical Commentary: In 1760, Britain was on the verge of finally defeating France in the Seven Years War, the economy was growing, and virtually every American colonist was proud to be a British citizen. Even as Britain, out of misplaced jealousy and greed, slowly tried to strangle its colonies over the next sixteen years, the majority of colonists still wanted nothing more than to remain in the British fold.
That finally changed among a bare majority of patriots after shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, in 1775, and after Thomas Paine published the most read pamphlet in American history, Common Sense, justifying rebellion against Britain. A decision had to be made, though it was not clear that we would declare independence until, after several votes and much debate, we voted to do so on July 2, 1776. The colonists themselves needed a sufficient reason to fight — to create a new nation that would be better than the old. And we needed foreign support, particularly from Britain’s long term enemies, France and the Netherlands. Both would only offer their support to us if we unequivocally proclaimed that our intent was to form a new nation. The Declaration of Independence was commissioned for those two audiences.
Everyone knows Jefferson’s preamble, a restatement of Locke’s natural rights theory that itself is founded on Christianity. It was the high water mark of the English Enlightenment. Jefferson’s preamble provided the philosophical basis for our rebellion and the creation of our new nation.
After Jefferson’s preamble came the specific complaints drafted by joint effort of all of the members of the Second Continental Congress. Everyone knows that the colonists demanded that they only be taxed — and subject to laws — passed by their own governments, not by the Parliament sitting in London. But the members of the Second Continental Congress went far beyond that, setting forth in the Declaration of Independence the “long train of abuses,” to quote Locke, that accumulated over sixteen years and that now justified our rebellion.
As you read this, remember that, in July 1776, the outcome of this rebellion was anything but certain. Moreover, signing the Declaration was a death warrant for the signatories. If they lost the war and were caught, they faced being hanged, drawn and quartered for treason and their families thrown into absolute poverty.
The one high ranking member of the Revolution, Henry Laurens, who was caught by the Brits in 1780, was charged with treason and held in the Tower of London. Fortunately for Laurens, the Brits soon after lost the Battle of Yorktown and Britain exchanged Laurens for Lord Cornwallis, the British commander captured by the Americans at Yorktown.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
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.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
[This is a generic complaint against the King for retaining power to veto duly passed local laws and likely a specific complaint about the King’s repeated veto of laws passed by Pennsylvania to restrict the slave trade in that colony. ]