In the U.S., Constitution Day (September 17) came and went this year. I’ve not paid much attention to it in the past, but this year the issue of freedom is of utmost relevance to me and my friends. I had intended to kick off a series of blog articles about the United States Constitution. Numerous events delayed that plan. But this delay allowed me to realize that it is important and relevant to first consider the document that came before the Constitution: the Declaration of Independence.
Before the Declaration was finalized, Thomas Jefferson shared his personal struggle, being torn between a “cordial love” for the British union, and the pain of his conscience to not “yield to the terms of the Parliament”.
“Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.
—Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1775
Declaring independence from the tyranny of King George III was not easy and not without much debate. Should the 13 colonies remain loyal to the King? Should they humbly submit to the King’s demands? What really was so wrong with the rule of Britain? Didn’t the King do so many good things for the people? Didn’t Britain provide protection and many other benefits? In the end, the men of the Second Continental Congress chose to follow their consciences and forge a new path based on the facts of their situation and not their duty to be loyal to their leader.
The Declaration of Independence was the document that “justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution.” (source)
The first paragraph sets the tone for the Declaration. It presents the Declaration as a reasonable and logical petition, and also clearly declares the purpose of the colonies to “dissolve the political bands” and to separate from the King’s authority:
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.
The next paragraph begins with the famous statement:
“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—”
But the ending of this paragraph is of great importance:
“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.”
The Americans were not upset because of one or two grievances. They were furious because of the “history of repeated injuries”. The pattern of tyranny had to be broken.
Next, the Declaration lists 27 charges against the King. These facts demonstrate the King’s tyranny and violation of people’s rights. Although there was an over-abundance of emotion among those preparing the document, they focused on these facts.
Then the Declaration makes an appeal to those still feeling they must remain part of the British empire in order to be loyal to their British friends and family. The Declaration reminds everyone that the American colonies had already exhausted humble petition, repeatedly asking for dialogue regarding the charges, only to be answered by “repeated injury”. The colonies had already warned their British brothers and sisters. They had already made repeated attempts to reform the government. They already reminded and appealed, only to see the leaders become “deaf to the Voice of Justice”.
In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.
Nor have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them from Time to Time of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our Connections and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace, Friends.
The final paragraph speaks for itself and utterly declares the right to freedom:
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, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, 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.