Notes on the Declaration of Independence

Continuing our discussion of the ideological and philosophical differences that lay at the roots of the drive toward rebellion and revolution by the colonists, I have included our notes we took today after we read and discussed the Declaration of Independence.

Some links at which you need to look:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html – This is the text we read in class.

You can also look in your textbook on pp. A1-A3. The text of the Declaration included in your book also explains (in blue text) the antecedents of each of the specific acts to which Jefferson alludes in each of the grievances against the King, so look at that as well.

The notes we went over in class after reading the Declaration are as follows:

Main Political Claims/ Political Theory Expounded in the Declaration:

(Directly derived from Locke)

1. All men are created equal. (which means that…)
2. All men have certain natural rights. (life, liberty, property)
3. Government is formed BY THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED to protect those rights.
4. If the expectations of #3 is not fulfilled, consent may be withdrawn, and government can LEGITIMATELY be abolished.

Note that the colonists are no wild-eyed anarchists– they want a LEGITIMATE government that respects and protects their rights, not no government at all. In fact, note that in the last paragraph, Jefferson points out that states are now independent– and they all had state governments. On July 5, it is those state governments where the power given up by the people by consent now resides. This also touches directly upon the claims made in the Example of a Letter from a Committee of Correspondence.

The Crux of the Problem: Where is the Philosophical Difference of Opinion Between the Colonists and the British Government:

Is consent required?

Basic Charges against the British Empire:

(4 points–These can be seen as being paired)
1. Laws were not passed that we needed– 2. Laws were passed to which we did not assent.

3. The British authorities subverted our ability to govern ourselves– 4. The king’s government violated our rights and liberty and therefore did not legitimately govern us either.

Links for more information that you must look at:
http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/367/locke%20decindep.htm –This puts phrases from the Declaration of Independence parallel to the Lockean arguments in the Second Treatise on Government.

http://www.constitutionfacts.com/?section=declaration&page=fascinatingFacts.cfm – Interesting facts about the Declaration

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