Happy Fourth of July, if you’re someone who celebrates it.
Even if not, you might want to read the Declaration
of Independence and think about it.
In the first place, it’s a really good piece of writing. And
there are a lot of phrases and sentences that have entered the
English Language. It isn’t quite as full of quotations as the
best of Shakespeare, but it’s close:
- the course of human Events
- the Laws of Nature and of Natureâ€™s God
- a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind
That’s just the first paragraph (preamble). The second
paragraph is almost more jam-packed:
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 Happinessâ€”-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 abolish it, and to institute a 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
And the last paragraph is the one that makes it such fun to
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 the 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 the divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
One of the features that makes it such a tight piece of writing
is that it’s a syllogism:
A: When these things happen, the government should change.
B: These things have been happening.
C: The colonies are of right and ought to be free and
Another point to consider is that, compared with many other
pieces of political propaganda, it seems to have been mostly
true. Not that some of the stories might not have been told
differently by the opponents of independence, but historians who
have looked at the question find some basis for all the “Facts” in
So you can complain, and I certainly do, about the abuses of
power in the system of government set up after this Declaration.
But it’s worth thinking about all the important revolutions
inspired by this language, probably including some minor ones in
our own biographies.
And have a good cookout or fireworks or whatever you do.