Declaration of Independence: Signers & History

Instructor: Michael Knoedl

Michael teaches high school Social Studies and has a M.S. in Sports Management.

The Declaration of Independence is the document on which the principles of American politics are based. In this lesson, we'll discuss the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and the history behind this historical document.

History

Through the first half of the 18th century, the colonists, most of whom emigrated to the New World from England and Europe for opportunities to improve their social and economic conditions, were under British rule. At this time, England had the best navy in the world and was usually involved in wars around the globe. Wars, just as they are today, were very expensive, and King George III had to find a way to pay the costs. So, rather than listen to the citizens of England complain about the taxes, King George decided to put that burden on the Thirteen Colonies, which had greater wealth, anyways, due to tobacco and timber.

The colonists did not appreciate the taxes, so they began to complain. King George ended up cutting almost all taxes except a tea tax, which spurred the Boston Tea Party, when colonists threw millions of dollars of tea into the Boston Harbor. The Colonies and England were getting frustrated with one another, and the colonists were upset that they were being taxed but were not allowed representation in Parliament. That's when they decided that they needed to either force England to allow them fair representation or gain independence.

Colonists protesting
Colonial Protests

After a few small skirmishes, the news about British brutality to the colonists spread through the Thirteen Colonies, and the war movement began. With the American Revolution came the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence. He was open about the Declaration not having any original ideas and recognized that it was simply a collection of ideas from colonists and other documents. The Declaration of Independence is split into five parts: the introduction, the preamble, a two-part body, and a conclusion. These parts are not officially titled on the document itself, but we use them to help us understand the Declaration of Independence better today. It was not actually meant to be read as a document; with low literacy rates in the colonies, the Declaration of Independence was meant to be read aloud and performed to try to stir the colonists and get them to support the movement.

Introduction

The introduction to the Declaration of Independence explains what the document wants to accomplish. It introduces the Colonies' need to separate from Great Britain in order to obtain the rights that are entitled to by nature and by God. It basically says, 'you're fired,' to good old King George.

The colonists essentially fired King George.
King George Fired

Preamble

The preamble tells us that we all have the right to 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.' Essentially, it says that we should be able to live our lives how we want with minimal government interference. This section also tells us that 'all men are created equal,' a notion that our government has used for legislative purposes for more than 200 years. Finally, the preamble tells the colonists that, when a government becomes abusive, it becomes the 'right' and 'duty' to revolt against that government.

Body: Section 1

The first part of the body of the Declaration of Independence lists ways that the colonists felt King George was abusive. Its basic purpose was to justify to the king and the British government the reasons the Colonies found it necessary to declare independence. Each statement on the list starts with either 'He,' meaning King George, or 'For,' followed by an injustice the colonists believed was done to them. Some of the 'repeated injuries and usurpations' detailed here include lack of proper representation in the legislature, military occupation during peacetime without consent of the colonial government, cutting off colonial trade with other parts of the world, and imposing unwelcome taxes.

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