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The Declaration of Independence: Summary & Analysis

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  • 1:58 The Declaration of…
  • 2:25 The Introduction
  • 3:25 The Preamble
  • 4:20 The Indictment
  • 6:31 The Denunciation
  • 7:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in U.S. History and led to the country's independence from Great Britain. In this lesson, we will review the main components of this important document.

The Events Leading to the Declaration

In 1773, the 13 colonies were a rather happy place. They were prosperous, content, and still felt connected to the British Empire. However, in just a few short years all of this would change.

During the years of 1773 through 1776, the 13 colonies became more unhappy with the British Empire. They felt unfairly taxed, heavily monitored, and ignored when problems were presented. As these problems became more obvious, deeper issues, such as political differences, came to light. The two sides became more confrontational, and the 13 colonies were ready to declare themselves free from the British Empire.

In 1774, the Continental Congress was formed. The group sent a list to King George III declaring their grievances with England. This list was ignored, so they sent a second list. When the second list was again ignored, the colonists decided to rebel and declare their independence. Five people were appointed to write the Declaration of Independence, the document that established the United States as a nation. Although Thomas Jefferson was the main writer of the document, he showed several drafts to Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston before the final draft was presented.

On July 4, 1776, the 56 delegates officially signed the Declaration of Independence, declaring themselves a new nation, the United States of America. Now that we have reviewed the events that led to its signing, we should discuss what exactly the document contained, and why its contents were important.

The Declaration of Independence

The main purpose of the Declaration was to announce the colonies as separate from England. It outlines the principles that were the foundation for declaring independence. The Declaration of Independence consists of five parts: the introduction, the preamble, the indictment of King George III, the denunciation of the British Government, and the conclusion.

Introduction

The introduction is just one sentence:

'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 separation.'

Although just one sentence, the introduction does set the tone for the rest of the document. First, the writers make it clear that this move is necessary. It was time for them to break the political bands that connect the two countries together. Second, this move to separate was a right given to them by Nature and God. Finally, the call for independence may come when there are specific reasons or causes that lead to this separation.

The Preamble

The Preamble outlines the general beliefs of government that justifies a rebellion. This section begins with one of the most popular phrases of the document:

'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 those are Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.'

The remainder of the preamble defines the political beliefs of the writers. Government is there for the people. When the government becomes too destructive, the people have the right to abolish it and create a new government. The decision to end the current government is not an easy one, and there should be clear reasons why. But when there is a long history of abuse of power, it is the peoples' right and duty to essentially fire the government.

The Indictment

The third part of the Declaration of Independence is the indictment of King George III. In this section, the writers created a list of 'repeated injuries' as a basis for independence. These grievances focused on areas of legislation, judicial rule, military concerns, and failure to protect.

The legislative concerns focused on the fact that King George III would not allow them representation in the Parliament. In addition, he refused to let the colonies have their own meetings or government. Although they lacked any representation, they were still forced to accept the laws given to them. He even refused certain territories protection unless they agreed to no representation. Finally, they accused the King of holding secret meetings off the record where he bullied others to agree with him.

The judicial concerns addressed the concerns the colonies had with their lack of judicial system. They believed that King George III made the judges dependent upon him and controlled their decision. In addition, he would not allow the colonists to have a trial by jury in the colonies, but forced them to go back to England.

The writers were also fearful of the military action in the colonies. They did not agree with King George III's decision to keep armed soldiers stationed in the colonies during times of peace. In addition, the colonies were denied any military action of their own, forcing them to rely on Great Britain for any military protection or concern.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence addressed the lack of protection by Great Britain. King George III had cut off their trade to other parts of the world. The colonists had continually asked for help to protect their people on sea or from the Native Americans, and he had refused. He had imposed taxes on them without their consent. Worst of all, he had declared war on them by burning their towns and destroying their people. At the very moment they were writing the Declaration of Independence, the King was sending more troops to the colonies.

The Denunciation

The final part of the Declaration of Independence contains the denunciation and the conclusion. The denunciation states their final reasons for this call to independence. The colonists have asked for help repeatedly and have continued to be ignored. They have been ignored not just by the government, but by the citizens of England. Because of this, it is necessary for the colonies to declare independence.

The Declaration of Independence ends with a formal conclusion and statement of independence, saying:

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