America has a rich history of pain and suffering, resistance and rebellion that finally led to the declaration of independence in 1776. Like many countries under colonial rule, the thirteen colonies of America had to resort to rebellion. Other “more civilized” attempts at getting their grievances addressed to the colonialists, Great Britain, had failed to yield any fruit (Maier 13). The American Revolution, the famous resistance staged by the thirteen colonies of North America that would later form the United States of America, was phenomenal in paving the way for liberation and independence. This essay discusses the reasons behind the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, its content and the influence it had on the history of America and the world as a whole.
The Declaration of Independence was drafted in the wake of the growing discomfort and disapproval of the British rule in America. Thomas Jefferson made it thirty-three years ago in June, 1776, and it was approved by the Continental Congress (Wills 17). On its approval, it was made a public declaration. However, its signing by the members of the Congress came about one month later, in August. Thomas Jefferson by himself adopted the words in the draft from the Continental philosophers and John Locke. Initially, a five-member committee had been constituted to spearhead the process of drafting the declaration. The members were John Adams (Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Robert Livingston (New York) and Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) (Wills 22). However, the other four gave Jefferson the mandate to make the draft. After he had drawn it, he sent it to Adams and Franklin to make the corrections before submitting the document to Congress. The words of the draft (and later, the Declaration) were presumed to be the opinion and feeling of not just one man (Jefferson), but the American community. It contained the reasons why Americans felt the breaking off the colony-colonialist ties was eminent and unavoidable. It also contained their perspectives on the basic rights, which anyone should have, yet the colonialists had breached.
The road to independence had indeed been a long one, characterized with the struggle for freedom treachery, unending consultations and even bloodshed. The ancestors wanted to bring change in the government to the country they loved, cherished and adored. Before independence looked formidable, there was the American Revolution. In the early 1760s, the colonialists (the British government) introduced new taxes in their colonies through the Stamp Act, the Currency Act, the Townshend Act, the Tea Act and the Sugar Act. The British government had been at war spending a lot of the country’s wealth in these wars. As a result, massive debts were incurred. One of the ways the government realized it could raise more revenue was through the introduction of taxes. This idea, however, did not please the colonies, especially the thirteen colonies of America. The thirteen colonies of America comprised New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, Georgia, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, South and North Carolina. These new Legislations coupled with the American Enlightenment that had been in the offing gave a way for the revolution to begin. It started with a boycott of British goods, and the boycott grew into a massive movement, the American Revolution. Americans fought against what they termed massive corruption and extortion by the colonialists yet no representation in the government (Armitage 43).
Not all of the thirteen colonies accepted the resistance. In fact, as of May 1776, only eight of the colonies had resolved to support the call for independence (Maier 68). The other five were either ambiguous or silent altogether on their take in the war. Most of these colonies (the five) felt the need for dialogue and reconciliation. All the same, the message was clear. The Americans were tired of being mistreated and were looking forward to new leadership. Indeed, Congress petitioned the king to reconsider his stance and that of his country on the issues that were drawing controversy, especially the Coercive Act. They did this, not once, but twice. The response of the king was less than impressive, and Congress felt betrayed. The reigning monarch at the time was King George III. When he received the petition from Congress, he totally disregarded the wishes of Americans. Instead, he oversaw the passing of a new Act, the Prohibitory Act. The Parliament in Britain passed the Prohibitory Act, which branded American vessels and ships enemy. The Act also disallowed docking at the American ports. In essence, the Act served to separate the thirteen colonies from the rest of the world with regard to trade, transport and communication (Maier 83). King George III embraced war. He called on the assistance of the German troops to help him quash the revolution.
These actions by the then reigning monarch served as a concise message, that indeed, independence was around the corner. To the people, the declaration by Britain to close the American ports and wage war against the colonies was proof that they were more or less independent. Tension was growing immensely. The thirteen colonies felt that the British Parliament had no authority whatsoever to levy taxes on them since they did not get any representation in Parliament. By 1775, the Continental Congress had assumed power in its own right. It had built its own army and come up with its own currency (Armitage 124). As it gradually took over operations, Congress passed acts that would see the effects of the Acts passed by Parliament neutralized. One of these, the Privateering Resolution, gave the American vessels the mandate to be equipped in ways and means that would enable them protect America against foreign aggression. This act of overruling the British authority marked a new dawn. Soon, on the fifth day of May 1776, the Virginia Convention resolved that its representatives present their case before Congress. The case to be presented was their feeling on independence of the United Colonies. This presentation was known as the Lee Resolution for Independence (Wills 118). The resolution, which was read by Richard Lee, stated “Resolved: 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”. Congress convened in July 1776 and twelve out of the thirteen colonies adopted the resolution read by Lee. New York did not vote. The Declaration of Independence, the document that had been drafted by Thomas Jefferson, closely followed this adoption.
The Declaration of Independence is divided into four sections: introduction, preamble, body and the conclusion. The introductory part states the causative reasons why the thirteen colonies had to break away from British rule. It also urges the intended audience (the British government at the time) to respect the opinions of the draft as the Americans were impelled to speak their mind on the need for separation and ultimately independence. The preamble discusses the belief and opinions of the Americans and their rights as humans. It states “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” (The Declaration of Independence). This statement is synonymous with the Declaration of Independence and has been used often. The Declaration today is quoted by human rights organizations, to add more weight to their cases (Maier 297). The Declaration further states, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” In the preamble, King George’s high-handedness is also highlighted, and it opens the way for the body of the declaration that further gives evidence of the tyranny that characterized his rule and the grievances brought to light by the Americans ever so often (Armitage 288). The body of the Declaration is divided into two parts. The first spells the errors of omission by King George, while the second part highlights the errors of commission. The first error of omission by the Monarch as presented by the Declaration is, “He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for public good” (The Declaration of Independence). The list goes on. It highlights about thirteen other unacceptable errors. The following part is on the atrocities committed by the colonialists and their leadership against the thirteen colonies. The declaration mentions the recruitment of foreign troops and the declarations of the Prohibitory Act including the no docking at the American port declaration. Further, about fifteen more grievances are listed others complete with explanations on why the Americans felt certain actions were in bad taste. The most outstanding of all the grievances, however, is the fact that the American government was subdued, and the people had no say in how they were ruled as they lacked any form of representation in Parliament.
The Declaration of Independence closes its case by stating that Americans had petitioned the King on two occasions without a positive response unto their grievances. It states that the Americans had tried to reach a compromise amicably but instead were met with hostility. The Declaration ends with a pledge to uphold liberty and independence in the United States of America. This Declaration was the hallmark of a new journey of independence. Since then, it has marked every road towards success and a liberal society in America to date (Maier 312). Abraham Lincoln, for one, was a firm believer in the Declaration and was for the opinion that as long as Americans lived by the contents of the Declaration, harmony and unity would remain long lasting. Indeed, the Declaration has since its inception become more than just an appeal for independence. People from all occupations have adopted its principles. It has had an immense impact, not just on Americans but also throughout the world. France particularly adopted some of its elements in constituting the Declaration for Women’s Rights. Today, a copy of the declaration stays at the National Archives (Wills 390).