The Declaration of Independence: Text, Signers and Legacy

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  • 0:05 The Letter
  • 1:34 Deciding to Declare…
  • 2:36 Approval
  • 3:28 The Text
  • 4:36 The Legacy
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

After 12 years of tension and fighting, the colonists and their leaders were ready to declare themselves a new country, independent of Great Britain. This lesson examines the motives, the text, and the legacy of America's Declaration of Independence.

The Letter

Dear Mom and Dad,

Two days ago, I made a very important decision. I've got a right to be happy - to live my own life, my own way. So I am writing you this letter to let you know I don't want you to interfere in my life anymore.

For the last few years, you've been taking advantage of me and treating me like a child with your unfair rules, and I'm not gonna take it anymore! You say 'no' to every reasonable request I make and you don't give me any privacy. You won't let me pick my own job, you won't listen to my side of the story, and whenever I try to do something for myself, you say I'm being 'rebellious.' But you keep changing the rules and you won't talk to me, so how am I supposed to know what you expect?

You know I've tried to fix the problems between us, but you just won't listen. So I'm done. I'm moving out, and I no longer consider you my parents.


Your former daughter

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress sent off a letter just like that one. They told King George III that since he refused to respect their rights as British citizens, they were going to disown him. Today, we know this letter as the Declaration of Independence. But before we talk about the document, its context, and its legacy, let's clear up a few common misconceptions. The Declaration of Independence didn't start the Revolutionary War, it didn't establish the government in the United States, and it isn't exactly a legally binding document. But it refocused the Americans' goal in the war, it identified the purpose of American government, and it altered the course of history.

The Declaration of Independence was a letter sent to King George III saying he was disowned
Declaration of Independence

Deciding to Declare Independence

Tensions had been escalating between the colonies and the British government since the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Sustained warfare broke out 12 years later, in 1775. At the beginning of the war, very few people on either side of the Atlantic thought this was a war for independence. The colonists' original goal had been to fight for the rights to which they felt they were entitled. Public opinion shifted in favor of independence following the publication of Common Sense in January 1776. And it was the King's reaction to the colonists' Olive Branch Petition and continued military action by the British that finally convinced the colonial leaders that the best course of action was to break completely with Great Britain and try to make it in the world on their own. In May 1776, the Congress endorsed overthrowing existing royal governments. Every colony that did not yet have a Patriot government established one, and they began calling themselves states. In June, a committee of five congressmen led by Thomas Jefferson met to draft the Declaration of Independence.


On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, though not unanimously. Benjamin Franklin famously encouraged all of the delegates to vote in favor of independence by saying 'We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.' But there were some disagreements about the wording of the document. In particular, many delegates were disturbed by the declaration's mentioning of slavery. Jefferson himself owned hundreds of slaves, but still, the first draft of the Declaration of Independence blamed the King for 'maintaining a market where men are bought and sold.' Since South Carolina and Georgia refused to accept it as it stood, the declaration was amended to ignore slavery before being signed by Congress. So on the fourth of July, Congress approved the wording of the formal declaration, and John Hancock, president of the Congress, signed it.

The Text

The Declaration of Independence has three main sections: a preamble, a list of grievances, and the actual declaration of independence.

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