“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 these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The colonists’ original goal in fighting the British was to gain more freedom, while still remaining loyal to the Crown. By the spring of 1776, most of them believed they needed to be independent of Great Britain. In June of 1776, the Continental Congress selected a committee of five men to write an official declaration of independence. Thomas Jefferson was chosen to draft this historic document, which was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
The committee of men who drafted the Declaration of Independence knew that they were committing treason and could be executed for their crimes.
Thomas Jefferson was very well-educated. He was a gifted writer, as well as a scientist, inventor, lawyer, architect, and musician. He knew about Greek and Roman history and had studied the writings of men, such as John Locke.
John Locke believed that government is a contract between leaders and people. If the government wasn’t working, the people had the right to choose a new government. Jefferson believed in these ideals.
Jefferson was troubled by slavery, but didn’t know how to find a solution for it. He even kept slaves himself. In the Declaration of Independence, he wrote a list of complaints against the King, including his belief that the King made slavery possible. The Continental Congress removed that line.
John Hanco-ck, President of the Continental Congress, signed his name first. His is also the largest signature, supposedly because he wanted King George to be able to read Hanco-ck’s name without his glasses.
The Declaration of Independence was written on parchment with iron gall ink. The Founding Fathers were somewhat careless with it, rolling it up and carrying it with them from place to place. Today, it is displayed in a bullet-proof case filled with argon gas to preserve it.
The Declaration of Independence has inspired people worldwide to view themselves and the role of government in a new way. This document gives people hope and dignity.
1. Draft: to write
2. Execute: to intentionally kill someone as a punishment
3. Dignity: self-respect
Questions and Answers
Question: Did the Declaration of Independence give equal rights to everyone?
Answer: Although the Declaration of Independence declares that all “men are created equal,” they were not all given equal rights. Black men, poor men, and all women were denied the right to vote. Only educated men with some wealth could choose leaders. The Founding Fathers believed that poor men could too easily be bribed or persuaded by wealthy men. Do you think this was fair? Why or why not?
Visit the History Place to see a photo of the original draft and hear an audio version of the Declaration of Independence.
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