The creation of the Declaration of Independence is definitely the turning point in the US history of fighting for the independence from the British Empire. Although many years have passed since the moment of its signing, many debates still exist in regard to the content of the text, its purpose, and the overall importance of this legal document for the history of the USA.
Prior to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence the colonists showed the signs of disagreement with the official policy of the British Empire, especially after the adoption of the Stamp Act (1765). Nevertheless, all their attempts were not successful. The First Continental Congress, held in 1774, was not fruitful as well. As Armitage asserts, “declarations of independence were the primary symptoms of this contagion of sovereignty” (3). The second one, organized in 1776, was eventually leaded by three supporters of the idea of independence: Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and John Adams. The representatives of Virginia and North California states were specifically instructed regarding the issues of independence and, eventually, the resolution of independence was introduced at the Congress. Then, on June 11, the creators of the Declaration were provided with the instructions about the content of the future legal document. The list of creators included Roger Sherman, Richard Henry Lee, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and others. The first version of the Declaration was edited by Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams and then sent to the Congress. The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, which has become the Independence Day of the USA years later.
The content of the declaration
The Declaration of Independence is a quite old historic artifact that is almost 1400 words in length. It opens with a preamble that actually introduces the text and explains the reasons for its creation. The adopters of the Declaration explain why they have decided to overthrow the government and to develop further as an independent nation.
The preamble is followed by the series of important statements that underline the governmental structure of the new independent state and lay the foundation for the further adopted legal documents such as Bill of Rights. In particular, it stresses that all men are created equal. More than that, the creators of the Declaration assert the natural approach to the understanding of the human rights, claiming that each person has certain inalienable rights that can not be violated by the government. The list of such rights includes the right to life, the right to liberty, and to the pursuit of the happiness.
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The Declaration of Independence also focuses on the government and its role in the state. In particular, it is stressed that the government is obliged to protect the above enlisted rights of the citizens. The powers of the government stem from the people who elect it. They have a right to overthrow the government in case it no longer serves the purpose for which it has been created. Furthermore, the citizens are empowered to change the structure of the government if it is inappropriate under certain conditions. The reasons for removing the government should be justified.
Yet, the largest part of the Declaration actually concerns the abuses caused by the King George III to the colonies (Armitage 43). Almost one thousand words are used to describe his misdeeds. In particular, the King is accused of the establishment of the laws that tended to affect the colonies without their legal representation. For example, during the reign of the King the Stamp Act was passed in the parliament without the representation of the interest of the colonies. The Act levied taxes on all printed production in order to raise money for the operations of the British Army, which fought with France. Additionally, the laws that were approved by the king required the colonies and their residents to quarter a soldier and removed their right to fair trial by jury. The King was also accused of creating the restraints for trade. The King, George III, also attempted to establish the military rule and to suppress the revolts within the colonies.
In overall, the document consists of the introduction, in which Thomas Jefferson stresses the natural rights of the nation and the person. Then, the preamble discusses the equality of all, the purpose of the government, and the reasons for its removal. The third segment is dedicated to the injustices imposed by the King George III. Finally, the fourth part blames the British citizens for being ignorant to the Americans. The last section of the document states that the colonies are to be treated as free and equal subjects, entitled to all rights and privileges, which are appropriate for the independent and sovereign states.
The significance of the document for the creation of American nation and state
The Declaration of Independence has a significant meaning for the development of the USA as a state. This document actually expressed the will of the residents of the colony to eliminate the exhausting oversight and control, exercised by the British Crown, and to live in an independent state without the influence of others. As Strang asserts, Declaration was “legally binding when it effected separation of the colonies from the mother country” (60). Many protesters against British Empire were actually not ready to sign this document, since it would turn the entirely new page in the history and would launch totally new processes. Yet, fortunately, the creators of the Declaration showed their courage and presented the document to the entire world, stating their demands and intentions in a written form.
Apart from its significance as a founding document, the Declaration of Independence also envisaged the principles that underline the basics for the functioning of the USA as a free and open society. First of all, it stressed that all men are equal. Under the conditions of those times such statement was quite revolutionary in the legal documentation. At the era of colonies and empires the idea of the equality of all was definitely rejected. Yet, realizing their historic mission as well as considering the political climate in the colonies, the founders passed the decision to include this statement into the original text of the Declaration, stressing its qualitative difference from the British Empire. This short sentence actually served as the foundation for the construction of the free society within the territory of the USA. The tolerance and diversity of the American society, is, therefore, supported and rooted in the text of the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration also enlisted the inevitable rights of each citizen of the colony and the USA correspondingly. They included the right to life, liberty and to the pursuit of happiness (Thesis 695). While the first two are quite clear, the third notion should be explained in more details, as its meaning is deeper than it seems. The happiness, in the view of the creators of the document, represented not the hedonistic idea, but a more broadened concept. It stressed that it is the right to achieve the state of the happiness through one’s deeds with the use of the talents, time, and resources. Yet, it should be emphasized that this satisfaction has also to be beneficial to the family of the person, the friends, fellows, and future generations.
Again, this quite a short sentence created the foundation for the responsible attitude towards the public matters. It inevitably linked the happiness of the individual to the happiness of the entire nation. One should not be happy or should not benefit from something on his own without bearing in mind others and the future generation. Any kind of business should be created for the private as well as for the collective good. This principle, envisaged in the statement, should prevent the companies from manipulations with their workers and their rewards, as well as decrease the detrimental effect on the environment as a whole. Unfortunately, this principle is not followed in the present-day state that we all live in.
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This statement is also the reason for all the volunteer and public-oriented projects that are currently organized in the USA. It has cultivated the feeling of the duty to the state and to the community one lives in. Due to this little guideline, provided by the creators of the Declaration, the USA today has one of the strongest and most powerful civil societies in the world that can in reality affect and control the government as well as create the policies, needed to attain the public good.
Apart from that, the Declaration has also set the guidelines regarding the government in the USA. It clearly stated that the people, who live in the colonies, are the source of power that is then granted to the government. Following this, the government is responsible and accountable to the people. Moreover, it established the right of the American people to overthrow the government or to change its structure in case it no longer servers the interests of the nation. At the same time it should be stressed that the Constitution nowadays has no binding force. As Strang asserts, “its significance comes only as a source of the meaning of the Constitution that contains the ultimate legal norms for our society” (63).
In conclusion, the Declaration of Independence is an extremely important legal document in the history of the USA. It was adopted during the most crucial moments of the American-British tension and testified the creation of a new nation and a sovereign state independent from all kinds of outside influences. The Declaration consists of five main parts, which are the introduction; the preamble; the part regarding the natural and inalienable rights of each person; the part enumerating the abuses of the King George III; and the concluding section stating the intention of the colonies to become free from the British Empire and to be considered as an independent and sovereign state in relations with other countries.
The Declaration of Independence is of the greatest significance for the present day USA. First of all, it laid the foundations for the creation of the open society, in which everyone is treated equally regardless of his or her background. It also enumerated the rights of the citizens and stressed their powers and rights to elect and to overthrow the government whenever needed. All in all, the legal and political importance of the Declaration of Independence is definitely beyond the doubt.