THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
ITS ORIGIN, INFLUENCE AND MEANING


Introduction:
During the eighteenth century, the British Empire held power over hundreds of colonies across the globe, but had struggled to maintain that power over the American colonies. Britain had faced threats from both Native American tribes and rival European powers before, but the new enemy to Britain’s stronghold over its colonies in America came from the colonies themselves.
The Revolutionary War had begun in April of 1775 with fighting at Lexington and Concord.[2] The battles continued until the acting body of government in the colonies, the Second Continental Congress, decided to take actions of its own. The Second Continental Congress developed written appeals to Britain’s monarch, King George III, three times: once to make peace, once to justify military actions, and finally, once to declare autonomy. The last of these three documents began the colonies’ long journey toward becoming the United States of America. This document, issued July 4, 1776, is the Declaration of Independence.[1]

Background:
Massachusetts Leads the Way
Among the reasons for the Declaration of Independence is the animosity between the American colonies and Britain, something which was only encouraged by the passing of the Suffolk Resolves. The Suffolk Resolves, named after the Massachusetts county where it originated, represented the opinions of radicals within the colonies.[1][3]
In 1774, Britain wished to punish the rebellious colony of Massachusetts following the Boston Tea Party by passing the Coercive Acts, or - as they were known by the colonists - the Intolerable Acts. The Coercive Acts were made up of five separate acts: the Boston Port Bill, the Quartering Act, the Administration of Justice Act, the Quebec Act, and the Massachusetts Government Act. The first act enforced the closing of Boston Harbor until the East India Company was reimbursed for the tea that was destroyed during the Boston Tea Party. The second act authorized the quartering of British soldiers in private homes, when previously they were allowed only in unoccupied buildings. The third act was appropriately nicknamed the “Murder Act,” for it allowed British officials accused of crimes in the colonies to forgo colonial juries; the official was tried in a court in England, where he could essentially get away with murder.[3] The fourth act extended Quebec’s border eastward, eliminating certain western colonies. The last part of the Coercive Acts was the most offensive of all, for it severely limited the colony's ability to self-govern by making it illegal to hold a town meeting without the governor’s approval, and it authorized the governor to place British appointees in the state legislature without a popular vote. These acts were found to be simply intolerable, leading Massachusetts to state its grievances - firmly.[3]
The colonists’ anger toward Britain is made clear in the introduction, when Warren parallels the colonists’ struggles against British oppression with the struggles of the earliest English settlers, who had fled England because of religious persecution. In short, although the Puritans had escaped British oppression, over one hundred years later, the Puritans’ progeny found they were not exempt from the harshness of the British crown. Warren went on to write that the colonists’ birth rights have been taken from them - the rights they should have had under the British constitution. Among Warrens most important points are those which address the Intolerable Acts and what the colonists planned to do about them. He addresses Britain’s interference in the judiciary system by commenting on the lack of justice in the Administration of Justice Act. Also, he declares that those royal appointees who accepted offices in the government without a proper vote were to be considered enemies if they did not resign. Warren also expresses radical thoughts to undermine the crown by refusing to buy goods from the East India Company and refusing to sell goods to England, Ireland or the West Indies. Most importantly however, are the attempts at peace-making with Britain. Warren’s first point is to make clear that the colony still considers King George III its leader, and to pledge allegiance to the crown. It is also made clear that the colony will not take up arms offensively, and will only continue its obstinacy until its rights are restored. The Suffolk Resolves call for action against Britain's wrongs, rallying colonists to defend their rights. The same complaints against infringements on personal and judiciary rights are echoed by Thomas Jefferson nearly two years later in the Declaration of Independence.[5]
On September 6, 1774, Dr. Joseph Warren read his first draft of the Suffolk Resolves to the Suffolk County Committee on Correspondence. The document was edited, approved and sent to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a sign of the colonies’ united front against ill-treatment by the British, the First Continental Congress endorsed and distributed the Suffolk Resolves eleven days later.[4]


The following is the full text of the final draft of The Suffolk Resolves

"At a meeting of the delegates of every town & district in the county of Suffolk, on Tuesday the 6th of Septr ., at the house of Mr . Richard Woodward, of Deadham, & by adjournment, at the house of Mr. Vose, of Milton, on Friday the 9th instant, Joseph Palmer, esq. being chosen moderator, and William Thompson, esq. clerk, a committee was chosen to bring in a report to the convention, and the following being several times read, and put paragraph by paragraph, was unanimously voted, viz. Whereas the power but not the justice, the vengeance but not the wisdom of Great-Britain, which of old persecuted, scourged, and exiled our fugitive parents from their native shores, now pursues us, their guiltless children, with unrelenting severity: And whereas, this, then savage and uncultivated desert, was purchased by the toil and treasure, or acquired by the blood and valor of those our venerable progenitors; to us they bequeathed the dearbought inheritance, to our care and protection they consigned it, and the most sacred obligations are upon us to transmit the glorious purchase, unfettered by power, unclogged with shackles, to our innocent and beloved offspring. On the fortitude, on the wisdom and on the exertions of this important day, is suspended the fate of this new world, and of unborn millions. If a boundless extent of continent, swarming with millions, will tamely submit to live, move and have their being at the arbitrary will of a licentious minister, they basely yield to voluntary slavery, and future generations shall load their memories with incessant execrations.--On the other hand, if we arrest the hand which would ransack our pockets, if we disarm the parricide which points the dagger to our bosoms, if we nobly defeat that fatal edict which proclaims a power to frame laws for us in all cases whatsoever, thereby entailing the endless and numberless curses of slavery upon us, our heirs and their heirs forever; if we successfully resist that unparalleled usurpation of unconstitutional power, whereby our capital is robbed of the means of life; whereby the streets of Boston are thronged with military executioners; whereby our coasts are lined and harbours crouded with ships of war; whereby the charter of the colony, that sacred barrier against the encroachments of tyranny, is mutilated and, in effect, annihilated; whereby a murderous law is framed to shelter villains from the hands of justice; whereby the unalienable and inestimable inheritance, which we derived from nature, the constitution of Britain, and the privileges warranted to us in the charter of the province, is totally wrecked, annulled, and vacated, posterity will acknowledge that virtue which preserved them free and happy; and while we enjoy the rewards and blessings of the faithful, the torrent of panegyrists will roll our reputations to that latest period, when the streams of time shall be absorbed in the abyss of eternity.--Therefore, we have resolved, and do resolve,

  1. That whereas his majesty, George the Third, is the rightful successor to the throne of Great-Britain, and justly entitled to the allegiance of the British realm, and agreeable to compact, of the English colonies in America--therefore, we, the heirs and successors of the first planters of this colony, do cheerfully acknowledge the said George the Third to be our rightful sovereign, and that said covenant is the tenure and claim on which are founded our allegiance and submission.
  2. That it is an indispensable duty which we owe to God, our country, ourselves and posterity, by all lawful ways and means in our power to maintain, defend and preserve those civil and religious rights and liberties, for which many of our fathers fought, bled and died, and to hand them down entire to future generations.
  3. That the late acts of the British parliament for blocking up the harbour of Boston, for altering the established form of government in this colony, and for screening the most flagitious violators of the laws of the province from a legal trial, are gross infractions of those rights to which we are justly entitled by the laws of nature, the British constitution, and the charter of the province.
  4. That no obedience is due from this province to either or any part of the acts above-mentioned, but that they be rejected as the attempts of a wicked administration to enslave America.
  5. That so long as the justices of our superior court of judicature, court of assize, &c. and inferior court of common pleas in this county are appointed, or hold their places, by any other tenure than that which the charter and the laws of the province direct, they must be considered as under undue influence, and are therefore unconstitutional officers, and, as such, no regard ought to be paid to them by the people of this county.
  6. That if the justices of the superior court of judicature, assize, &c. justices of the court of common pleas, or of the general sessions of the peace, shall sit and act during their present disqualified state, this county will support, and bear harmless, all sheriffs and their deputies, constables, jurors and other officers who shall refuse to carry into execution the orders of said courts; and, as far as possible, to prevent the many inconveniencies which must be occasioned by a suspension of the courts of justice, we do most earnestly recommend it to all creditors, that they shew all reasonable and even generous forbearance to their debtors; and to all debtors, to pay their just debts with all possible speed, and if any disputes relative to debts or trespasses shall arise, which cannot be settled by the parties, we recommend it to them to submit all such causes to arbitration; and it is our opinion that the contending parties or either of them, who shall refuse so to do, onght to be considered as co-operating with the enemies of this country.
  7. That it be recommended to the collectors of taxes, constables and all other officers, who have public monies in their hands, to retain the same, and not to make any payment thereof to the provincial county treasurer until the civil government of the province is placed upon a constitutional foundation, or until it shall otherwise be ordered by the proposed provincial Congress.
  8. That the persons who have accepted seats at the council board, by virtue of a mandamus from the King, in conformity to the late act of the British parliament, entitled, an act for the regulating the government of the Massachusetts-Bay, have acted in direct violation of the duty they owe to their country, and have thereby given great and just offence to this people; therefore, resolved, that this county do recommend it to all persons, who have so highly offended by accepting said departments, and have not already publicly resigned their seats at the council board, to make public resignations of their places at said board, on or before the 20th day of this instant, September; and that all persons refusing so to do, shall, from and after said day, be considered by this county as obstinate and incorrigible enemies to this country.
  9. That the fortifications begun and now carrying on upon Boston Neck, are justly alarming to this county, and gives us reason to apprehend some hostile intention against that town, more especially as the commander in chief has, in a very extraordinary manner, removed the powder from the magazine at Charlestown, and has also forbidden the keeper of the magazine at Boston, to deliver out to the owners, the powder, which they had lodged in said magazine.
  10. That the late act of parliament for establishing the Roman Catholic religion and the French laws in that extensive country, now called Canada, is dangerous in an extreme degree to the Protestant religion and to the civil rights and liberties of all America; and, therefore, as men and Protestant Christians, we are indispensubly obliged to take all proper measures for our security.
  11. That whereas our enemies have flattered themselves that they shall make an easy prey of this numerous, brave and hardy people, from an apprehension that they are unacquainted with military discipline; we, therefore, for the honour, defence and security of this county and province, advise, as it has been recommended to take away all commissions from the officers of the militia, that those who now hold commissions, or such other persons, be elected in each town as officers in the militia, as shall be judged of sufficient capacity for that purpose, and who have evidenced themselves the inflexible friends to the rights of the people; and that the inhabitants of those towns and districts, who are qualified, do use their utmost diligence to acquaint themselves with the art of war as soon as possible, and do, for that purpose, appear under arms at least once every week.
  12. That during the present hostile appearances on the part of Great-Britain, notwithstanding the many insults and oppressions which we most sensibly resent, yet, nevertheless, from our affection to his majesty, which we have at all times evidenced, we are determined to act merely upon the defensive, so long as such conduct may be vindicated by reason and the principles of self-preservation, but no longer.
  13. That, as we understand it has been in contemplation to apprehend sundry persons of this county, who have rendered themselves conspicuous in contending for the violated rights and liberties of their countrymen; we do recommend, should such an audacious measure be put in practice, to seize and keep in safe custody, every servant of the present tyrannical and unconstitutional government throughout the county and province, until the persons so apprehended be liberated from the bands of our adversaries, and restored safe and uninjured to their respective friends and families.
  14. That until our rights are fully restored to us, we will, to the utmost of our power, and we recommend the same to the other counties, to withhold all commercial intercourse with Great-Britain, Ireland, and the West-Indies, and abstain from the consumption of British merchandise and manufactures, and especially of East-Indies, and piece goods, with such additions, alterations, and exceptions only, as the General Congress of the colonies may agree to.
  15. That under our present circumstances, it is incumbent on us to encourage arts and manufactures amongst us, by all means in our power, and that be and are hereby appointed a committee, to consider of the best ways and means to promote and establish the same, and to report to this convention as soon as may be.
  16. That the exigencies of our public affairs, demand that a provincial Congress be called to consult such measures as may be adopted, and vigorously executed by the whole people; and we do recommend it to the several towns in this county, to chuse members for such a provincial Congress, to be holden at Concord, on the second Tuesday of October, next ensuing.
  17. That this county, confiding in the wisdom and integrity of the continental Congress, now sitting at Philadelphia , pay all due respect and submission to such measures as may be recommended by them to the colonies, for the restoration and establishment of our just rights, civil and religious, and for renewing that harmony and union between Great-Britain and the colonies, so earnestly wished for by all good men.
  18. That whereas the universal uneasiness which prevails among all orders of men, arising from the wicked and oppressive measures of the present administration, may influence some unthinking persons to commit outrage upon private property; we would heartily recommend to all persons of this community, not to engage in any routs, riots, or licentious attacks upon the properties of any person whatsoever, as being subversive of all order and government; but, by a steady, manly, uniform, and persevering opposition, to convince our enemies, that in a contest so important, in a cause so solemn, our conduct shall be such as to merit the approbation of the wise, and the admiration of the brave and free of every age and of every country.
  19. That should our enemies, by any sudden manoeuvres, render it necessary to ask the aid and assistance of our brethren in the country, some one of the committee of correspondence, or a select man of such town, or the town adjoining, where such hostilities shall commence, or shall be expected to commence, shall despatch couriers with written messages to the select men, or committees of correspondence, of the several towns in the vicinity, with a written account of such matter, who shall despatch others to committees more remote, until proper and sufficient assistance be obtained, and that the expense of said couriers be defrayed by the county, until it shall be otherwise ordered by the provincial Congress." [5]

The Writing of the Declaration of Independence
In the early stages of the Revolutionary War, many of the colonists were hesitant to show open opposition to the British, for they were unsure whether independence from England was the right choice to make. However, publications advocating the split between the two entities, such as Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," drew support from many of the colonists. Soon after the war started, the desire for independence grew so much that the Virginia Convention decided to take action. In May of 1776, the Virginia Convention decided to present a resolution to the Second Continental Congress to end the United Colonies' allegiance to Britain.[12
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia Convention's delegate, presented what would later be known as "Lee's Resolutions" to the Second Continental Congress. The resolution had three proposals: declare independence, plan a confederation between the colonies, and form foreign alliances. Clearly, the resolution called for a united front against the British.[12] [11]
In Lee's own words:
"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation." [11]


Four days later, the Congress formed a five-person committee to develop a declaration of independence. The committee members - Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson - were responsible for outlining and drafting a document that clearly stated the necessity of complete autonomy. The Committee of Five, as it was called, was carefully designed to equally represent he interests of every region of the colonies, having two men from New England (Sherman from Connecticut, Adams from Massachusetts), two men from the middle colonies (Livingston from New York, Franklin from Pennsylvania), and one man from the south (Jefferson from Virginia). Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing the first draft of the document, which was edited by the rest of the committee before being sent to the Continental Congress on June 28, 1776. [13]
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This painting by John Trumbull depicts the Committee of Five presenting their declaration to Congress. [13]


The Enlightenment and Jefferson
The American Enlightenment, like Europe’s Age of Reason during the seventeenth century, was a period of philosophical growth, marked by advances in religious, social and scientific thought. New ideas on equality and liberty emerged, influencing the great political thinkers of the time, such as Thomas Jefferson.[6] Jefferson’s political philosophy revolved around the recognition of individual liberties and the government’s limited protection of those liberties as the people decide. These beliefs serve as the foundations of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States government today, but these ideas are not entirely original to Jefferson. Jefferson was influenced by the ideas of European thinkers, especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke.[6]
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Portrait of Enlightenment philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau [9]
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a great French philosopher and a major contributor to the Enlightenment in Europe. His thoughts focused on the natural goodness of man, as well as the equality that could exist between men. His most influential publication dealing with political philosophy was titled The Social Contract. In The Social Contract, Rousseau differentiates between the general will and the sum of individual wills. With the former, the wellness of the whole of society is considered, while with the latter, the wellness of the group to which a citizen belongs is disregarded entirely, and replaced with what would benefit the individual only. Rousseau endorses a form of government that protects the general will with some sort of social compact, which would, ideally, outline actions that would provide a balance between the individual's rights and the authority of the state to which they belong. The Declaration of Independence was written with Rousseau's idea of balance in mind.[6]


John Locke (1632-1704) also influenced Thomas Jefferson's political philosophy. During the Enlightenment of the seventeenth century, the English philosopher introduced the idea of natural rights, as well as supported anti-authoritarianism. According to Locke, one is born with certain unalienable rights - rights which cannot and should not be taken away, and rights that exist equally among all people. Locke believed the natural rights were those of life, liberty and property, and that naturally a man should have the power to preserve those things against other men. This idea is echoed in the Declaration of Independence, but edited - replacing "property" with the "pursuit of happiness". Locke's anti-authoritarianism may have also inspired Thomas Jefferson. Locke advocated the use of reason, rather than simply assenting to the whims and opinions of authority. It may have been this somewhat rebellious spirit that may have prompted Jefferson to agree to write the Declaration of Independence in the first place. [7]


To further explore how the ideas of the Enlightenment affected the Declaration of Independence, one must look at the document's contents. The following is a transcription of the full text of the final draft Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence:


"IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,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 the separation.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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offencesFor abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."[8]


Analysis of the Text:Thomas Jefferson's references to the ideas of prominent Enlightenment thinkers are present most clearly in the introduction. Jefferson draws upon the ideas of John Locke in his introduction. He refers to the "Laws of Nature," which, according to him, afford that all men of both United Colonies and Britain are born equal. Jefferson nearly quotes Locke when he states the three freedoms that are the foundation of the United States today: "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Jefferson changed only one of the freedoms, the third, from John Locke's original idea of the right to property, (most likely to prevent conflict when a man cannot find a way to own property). Jefferson again channels Locke when he states that the United Colonies would no longer suffer under Britain's tyranny, but abolish the government that wrongs them. This follows along the lines of Locke's anti-authoritarianism. When Jefferson writes about abolishing the government, then establishing a new government that seems to better effect the "Safety and Happiness" of the governed, he echoes the ideas of Rousseau. There, Jefferson is referring to Rousseau's idea of a perfect government: one which protects the people's rights and is run with the general will in mind.
Jefferson also alludes to controversial laws and documents that were enacted or published during that time. In his list of wrongs King George III had committed against the people, Jefferson outlines the unfair laws that Parliament passed to keep the colonies in a state of powerless submission. Among these was the Coercive Acts, which Jefferson condemns by indicating the financial burden of the quartered soldiers, the moral and legal wrongs of the Administration of Justice Act, and the economic isolation caused by the closing of Boston's ports. In the conclusion to the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson reminds the people of their repeated attempts at peacefully stating their grievances to no avail. He refers to the Suffolk Resolves, which paralleled the sufferings of the Puritan immigrants and the sufferings of the colonists. He also paraphrases Lee's Resolutions in order to actually declare the colonies independent states.
Thomas Jefferson was inspired by the revolutionaries of the period, and the past, to write the document that would become his legacy, and the start of our nation - the Declaration of Independence.

Making it Official:
The Declaration of Independence was not made official until it was given the stamp of approval by Congress. Congress was not yet ready to make an immediate decision regarding independence, so it tabled the document until July 1, 1776. On that day, after a long debate over the resolution to declare independence, each member of Congress cast one vote, for or against independence. South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against independence, and Delaware's vote was not cast because its two delegates had opposing opinions. One member of Congress requested the voting be put off until the next day, since they had just endured dozens of long speeches in one day. On July 2, South Carolina and Pennsylvania changed their votes, Delaware voted yes, and New York abstained from voting (since it was not allowed to vote on the question of independence), so the declaration passed with twelve out of thirteen colonies voting in favor of severing ties with Britain.[14]
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The thirteen original colonies were united against Britain.

Congress then made thirty-nine revisions to the text, most significantly the elimination of an entire passage. This passage condemned the slave trade in the colonies. Thomas Jefferson was understandably upset, but Congress was not ready to eliminate slavery along with gaining its independence. On July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, made copies of the document, and had it signed by President of the Congress, John Hancock. This finalized the schism between Britain and its American colonies.[14]


Jefferson Adds to His Legacy:
After writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson did not stop trying to gain equal rights for all. In 1777, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. In the article, Jefferson disputes the practice of having an official religion in each colony. By that time, every colony officially supported one Christianity, or specifically one Church, (such as the Anglican or Congregational Churches). Instead, he proposes that every person has the right to practice his own religion, without being limited by the laws of his state. He writes that God created every man with a free mind, echoing his statements in the Declaration of Independence that every man has God-given, inalienable rights. He proposed an end to established religions, so as to have true religious freedom and tolerance.[15]

The following is the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:"An Act for establishing religious Freedom.
Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;that though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;and finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right."
The article was met with much controversy, for the Virginia General Assembly edited the document dangerously. They eliminated key phrases that helped support his bid for freedom, thus making the focus of the document the end of official religion. This angered priests of Virginia and other colonies; Jefferson's reputation among them was one of an infidel and a traitor. However, the government eventually came to support the document, and it was enacted in Virginia's state laws in 1786. [15]
The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was highly influential towards the establishment of the United States. It is the basis for the separation between church and state that the United States sees today, and it was the inspiration for the freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. [15]
Thomas Jefferson's written accomplishments have become the cornerstone of the nation, and the supreme law of the land.

Megan Simcock and Catherine Bonner

WORKS CITED

[12]
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