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The Declaration Of Independence: A Closer Look

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In What Did the Declaration Declare?, Joseph J. Ellis, an editor for history publications presents various historical perceptions on the analytical conception of this mythic text of American public life. The Declaration of Independence has enjoyed a long and useful career as an expression of "natural rights," providing Americans with an influential statement of their national doctrine. Thomas Jefferson had no reason to believe that he was writing a document that would become so revered throughout the ages. One may confirm the Declaration's idealistic origins by examining Carl Becker's enduring argument that the Declaration was an American product of the doctrines of John Locke. The Declaration was composed for a specific purpose. The members of the Continental Congress were more preoccupied with handling pressing military matters and meeting with delegates in the separate colonies, who were busy drafting and debating new state constitutions. This book by Ellis also provides a general, philosophical justification for revolution based on the colonist's growing feeling of entitlement of Lockean rights.

The colonists attitude about rights is illustrated in the statement "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable 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" (Ellis 15). These words, taken from the Declaration of Independence, are the most influential in our country's political culture, even today. This document was drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1776. Today, it is read and analyzed constantly in not just America, but all over the world as well. Granted, it was based on gaining Independence from the British Crown's rule, but its contents still holds true even today. It gives strength to the "underdog" in society to know even his government believes he is created equal. It puts fear into the soul of any to-be tyrant, letting him know--we will not stand back and allow you to bully us. It also makes it quite clear that if the people do not find solace in the government, if they are bullied and persecuted consistently by this government, then they have the right to overthrow the oppressors and again, start anew. This right is presented in the Declaration of Independence where it reads, "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" (Ellis 3). In summary, the Declaration of Independence gives hope and a feeling of security to the people of the United States of America. It went through many changes, beginning from a simple draft to an edited piece that impacted the Nation as a whole. Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration, but Congress edited and perfected this historical document to create a tactful and eloquent Declaration, which would remain a part of our country day-to-day philosophy throughout the course of history up to modern day times.

Thomas Jefferson, during May and June of 1776, served on committees and dealt mostly with the affairs of Canada. Naturally, he was more concerned with the welfare of Virginia, which was his home. He began drafting a Constitution for his own Commonwealth and included specific charges against King George III (Ellis 29). Jefferson had a history dealing in the politics of the colonies. He was very well informed on the proceedings within the colonies and this helped him to have a clear objective of the colonial procedures. As Dumas Malone said in his book titled, Jefferson the Virginian, "At all events, it was inevitable that a Virginian should be appointed to the committee [to draft up the declaration] and, despite his youth, Jefferson was a natural choice. His voice was uncertain but his pen was known to be potent and there could be no doubt that his mind was prepared" (Ellis 30). The Congress and delegates had faith in him, and knew he could certainly handle the demands placed on the committee chosen to draft the future Declaration of Independence. The committee consisted of five gentlemen: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Malone said:Then Jefferson was asked to draft it. Whether or not he and Adams were appointed to a subcommittee, as the latter said and he himself denied, is unimportant; and even if the conversation between the two men did not occur precisely as Adams reported it long afterwards, the reasons, which he then assigned, were valid. It was the part of wisdom to assign the lead to a Virginian, for the middle colonies were lukewarm and the New Englanders were deliberately keeping themselves in the background at this stage. Also, Jefferson bore no such odium of mistrust and unpopularity as Adams attributed to himself and he was doubtless regarded as the better writer (Ellis 30-31).

This statement implies that Jefferson was trusted and admired. Whatever he would write would be taken seriously and would be greatly respected. Because Jefferson was involved with politics and because he was known to be a respectable writer, it made sense to appoint him to draft the Declaration.

Jefferson worked fastidiously to convey the correct amount of spirit and to set the ideal tone for the document (Ellis 31). When it was finished, he edited it one more time before handing it over to the remaining members of the committee, where it would then go to Congress to be critiqued. The final Declaration was the result of many revisions. Many items from the original draft were cut and other items were added. The resulting piece was in many ways based on Lockean ideals. Carl Becker in his book titled, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas, stated:

English writers in the nineteenth century, perhaps somewhat blinded by British prejudice against the French Revolution and all its works, complacently took it for granted that the political philosophy of Nature and natural rights upon which the Revolution was founded, being particularly vicious must be peculiarly French; from which it followed, doubtless as the night the day, that the Americans, having also embraced this philosophy, must have been corrupted by French influence...The Americans did not borrow it; they inherited it. The lineage is direct: Jefferson copied Locke and Locke quoted Hooker (Ellis 63).

Jefferson had a particular interest in Locke. He had read his work, and read extensively, until his own writing was very similar to that of Locke's (Ellis



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