The Purpose of the Declaration of Independence Essay Example



The Declaration of Independence is an essential document in America’s history. It sets the standing American doctrine and basis on how America should be governed. The Declaration had a significant impact on America’s political culture and America's well-being. The Declaration is one of the first documents that was for the newly established U.S, that is an agreement from the American people and the government stating that the people agree to be governed. It provides America with three critical factors that make America different from other governments. The ideas of universal truths, social contract theory, and natural rights are all embedded into the Declaration of Independence, making America a unique nation unique

Universal Truths in the Declaration of Independence are stated as self-evident truths(Jefferson, 1776). Self-evident means something obvious to one’s self and everyone else. In the Declaration of Independence, the self-evident truths are “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”(Jefferson 1776). These self-evident truths were said to be visible and made sense to everyone; however, some scholars would argue that these self-evident truths were not and still are not evident to the public (Coleman 2004; Zuckert 1987). Self-evidence is much challenged today because words can have various meanings to different people. In 1776, self-evident had a different meaning than it has today (Zuckert 1987).

Today, the truths listed in the Declaration of Independence would not be called self-evident at all. All men were not created equal, and all men did not have the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, and some still do not have these rights. These Universal Truths were meant to only apply to a particular group of people for a long time: White, straight, and wealthy men. It was not until the Reconstruction Amendments that these rights were expanded to include black men, and it was not until the 19th Amendment that these rights were to include women. Today, gay men and women are now just getting their right to love whomever they choose. In 1776, these truths were self-evident because African Americans were not seen as humans at this time. Evident changes throughout time and has evolved to fit that specific generation and history.

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher and was said to be one of the founders of modern American political philosophy, which introduced the concept of social contract theory. It was a new concept of having men giving authority to other men to represent them in the government. John Locke, who was another English philosopher, was influenced by Thomas Hobbes and introduced the social contract theory again but more in-depth. Hobbes argued that men are naturally free because of the social contract where people sacrifice some of their rights to the government so that the government can protect their rights (Tuckness 2018). Today, the social contract can be defined as a theory where the people in a country agree to be governed by a legitimate government that protects their rights as people.

The people who agreed to be governed also had to sacrifice some of their liberties and happiness to ensure their government would protect their rights (Hobbes, 2008).Social contract theory is written all over the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was made not only to denounce King George III but also to instill a new government that was instituted among the people. This type of social contract government was not new to the States at all. One of the first examples of the theory was the Mayflower Compact. The Mayflower Compact was based on the consent of the people, which means it also had the social contract theory embedded into it. The Declaration of Independence is a social contract between the consenting populace and the government. The social contract is a very critical aspect of the Declaration of Independence. The social contract, the basis of which provides the people’s consent to be governed and their natural rights: essential elements of any form of government.

Natural rights or any rights are essential in any legitimate government and are rights that anyone should be entitled to during their life (Schmidt, etc. 2012). The writers of the Declaration of Independence made it clear that any man who is a citizen of the United States of America would have “certain unalienable rights”(Jefferson 1776). These unalienable rights are often referred to as natural rights. These natural rights were: the right to live, the right to liberty, and the right to seek out and achieve happiness. Many scholars would argue that the natural right to seek out and achieve satisfaction could be done in any way by a man’s definition of happiness and would be perfectly aligned within the Declaration. (Conklin 2015).  When the Declaration was written, women or slaves were not paid any attention to.

They had no rights or a voice in any of the decisions that were made or going to be made. These rights were not truly unalienable if more than half the population were not granted these "natural rights”(Penack 1990). White, wealthy men were given these rights at this time, and no one else was. Even poor whites did not have these same rights as the wealthy ones did. The right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”(Jefferson 1776). Were not the only natural rights that the men had that were stated in the Declaration. Men also had a right to create their governments and approve of them. Only men were given this right. Women, slaves, and especially poor people from every race were not. So, all the minorities were being excluded in this statement. The most famous saying all men were created equal also comes back to mean all white, rich men are created equal. All men were not created equal at this time. It was believed that they never would be,  either. However, this phrase would change through history and time through the labor movement, all the way to the women's movement and today. 

Equality

The statement that all men are created equal in the Declaration of Independence has changed throughout history and even to present day time; it was initially meant to only apply to wealthy white men who owned property (Tsesis 2012). The property that could be anything from actual land to slaves- which were considered as property and not people at this time. Women at this time were also disregarded, and so were poor people. This statement was proven wrong many times, starting with kicking the Native Americans out of their native home to the enslavement of another race (Friedman 2008, Tsesis 2012). The statement of men being created equally went on to change after the African American revolution.

This revolution did not change the Declarations “all men are created equal” statement, but it changed the people's mind and perspective of how this quote means. During the labor movement, the idea of the word men (white, wealthy men with property) also changed to poor men without as much capital. During the Reconstruction period (1865–77), the idea of men changed from just white men to include men of color. Finally, during the women's revolution, they turned the Americans people’s perspective of the word men again and changed it to include women; all men and women are created equally. 

The idea that all men are created equal has consistently been challenged and changed in our society year after year. As the American mindset has changed throughout the years, so has different words, phrases, and sentences all evolved different meanings as more or less important than others (Curry, 2017). This phrase is an excellent example of how modern American political culture was influenced by the Declaration and in return has changed the Declaration of Independence. 

The American political culture has changed over the years, but at the same time, stayed the same. Political culture is how we see the government; it's where shared beliefs and values are carried out.(Schmidt et al., 2012) The values that can be most connected to modern American political culture are liberty or freedom, equality, and democracy (Wilson 1997). The Declaration of Independence influenced modern American political culture starting with freedom first. The dictionary says that freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. (Harper 2019). The Declaration’s primary purpose was to announce freedom from Britain (Brannigan 2014).

It also stated multiple times that the colonies are “free and independent States.”(Jefferson 1776). The Declaration influences modern political culture in addition to equality. “All men are created equal”(Jefferson,1776) was the famous saying that changed American culture the most, but as time went on, political culture influenced the Declaration's equality statement. Americans preached about equality the most but were often called hypocrites because of their practices of holding slaves and denying rights to certain people of class, sex, and race. (Pencack 1190; Maier 1999). However, as time has gone by, Americans have slowly been making everybody from different cultures, races, and sexes equal.

America's political culture today still has issues of inequality and the idea of what is balanced. Equality is a subjective word and can lead to different designs or ideologies, different from generation to generation (Maier 1999). Democracy is the American’s primary type of political system that Americans choose to adopt. Democracy, defined by Peter Zitko is a  “Political system in which the population participates, there are competitive elections, and both human and civil rights are protected” (Zitko,2019). American Democracy is a government based on the consent of the people who are being governed; democracy was the whole thing that started the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration or in essence, started the country as a whole. Modern American political culture is influenced heavily by democracy. Today, Americans have the opportunity to participate in democracy for personal and general issues. Democracy, freedom, and equality are the backbone of America and shines through on daily interactions to once in a lifetime interactions. The Declaration of Independence is the spine in modern American political culture. 

The Declaration of Independence is significant to American society today and was very important to the American community in the past. The Declaration provides many backbones in America. It was made not only to denounce King George III and to separate from the rule of Great Britain but also to apply one vital feature of how the Separatists wanted to be governed. The Declaration of Independence was not the first document to break up with a country and had the idea of social contract theory. The Declaration of Independence was made out of 3 crucial key features that makes it unique to all else. Universal truths, natural rights, and the social contract theory. America draws its most essential ideas from the Declaration itself. All three of these critical factors helped shape America into what it is now. 

Works Cited

Brannigan, Gabrielle. “An Analysis of the Declaration of Independence.” Digital Commons @Brockport, The College at Brockport 2014 State University of New June 28 York, digitalcommons.brockport.edu/honors/90/.

Coleman, William Thaddeus. “Truths That Unfortunately Were Not, and Still Are Not, Sufficiently Self-Evident.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 148, no. 4, 2004, pp. 434–454. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1558139.

Conklin, Carli N. “The Origins of the Pursuit of Happiness.” vol. 7, no. 2, 2015, Washington University Jurisprudence Review www.openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1123&context=law_jurisprudence. 

Curry, Robert. “Jefferson, Locke, and the Declaration of Independence.”  The Claremont Institute,2017 www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/jefferson-locke-and-the-Declaration-of-Independence/.

Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York, New York, Paw Print, 1980. Print

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Simon & Schuster, 1660. Print

Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence: Full Text.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, 4 July 1995, www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.

Maier, Pauline. "The Strange History Of “All Men Are Created Equal.”Scholarlycommons.Law.Wlu.Edu, 1999, scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1547&context=wlulr. 06/24/19

Maxwell, William Earl. American Government and Politics Today: Texas Edition, 2011-2012. Wadsworth, 2011.

Pencak, William. “The Declaration of Independence: Changing Interpretations and a New Hypothesis.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 57, no. 3, 1990, pp. 225–235. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27773386.

Tsesis, Alexander. “Self-Government and the Declaration of Independence.”Cornell Law Review. vol. 97, no. 4, May 2012, pp. 711. scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3236&context=clr. 

Tuckness, Alex, "Locke's Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/entries/locke-political/>.

Wilson, Richard W. “American Political Culture in Comparative Perspective.” Political Psychology, vol. 18, no. 2, 1997, pp. 483–502. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3791777.

Zitko, Peter. “Introduction to American Politics and Government.” Introduction to Political science, Solano Community College. Powerpoint Presentation.

Zuckert, Michael P. “Self-Evident Truth and the Declaration of Independence.” The Review of Politics, vol. 49, no. 3, 1987, pp. 319–339. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1407839.