United States Declaration of Independence

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The Declaration of Independence is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, announcing that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain were no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence.

Quotes from the Declaration

  • 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.
    • The reference to "the laws of nature and of nature's God" appears to be borrowed from Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, epistle iv, line 331: "Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, But looks through Nature up to Nature’s God"; Pope, in turn, may have borrowed it from a letter to Pope by Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke St. John, who praised the modesty of "[o]ne follows Nature and Nature’s God; that is, he follows God in his works and in his word".
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable 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 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.
    • An early draft of the Declaration of Independence (June or July 1776); John Adams altered inalienable to unalienable in the copy that was actually signed, believing this to be more correct. An even earlier draft read: "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (June 1776). Compare: "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights", Constitution of Massachusetts (1779).
  • We must therefore...hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.
    • On the British
  • 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.

Earlier drafts

  • He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in an other hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of an other.
    • Known as the "anti-slavery clause", this section drafted by Thomas Jefferson was removed from the Declaration at the behest of representatives of Southern states.

About the Declaration

  • I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
    • John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams (1776-07-03), published in The Adams Papers : Adams Family Correspondence (2007) edited by Margaret A. Hogan.
  • Its constitution the glittering and sounding generalities of natural right which make up the Declaration of Independence.
    • Rufus Choate, Letter to the Maine Whig Committee (1856). Six years earlier, Choate gave a lecture in Providence which was reviewed by Franklin J. Dickman in the Journal of December 14, 1849. Unless Choate used the words "glittering generalities", and Dickman made reference to them, it would seem as if Dickman must have the credit of originating the catchword. Dickman wrote: "We fear that the glittering generalities of the speaker have left an impression more delightful than permanent". Reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a 'sacred right of self-government. ... Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. ...Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. ... If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving.
    • Abraham Lincoln, October 1854 speech in Peoria, cited in McPherson p.126-127.
  • Here, in the first paragraph of the Declaration, is the assertion of the natural right of all to the ballot; for how can "the consent of the governed" be given, if the right to vote be denied?
    • Susan B. Anthony, in her "Is It a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?" speech before her trial for voting (1873).
  • We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create the Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the Founders who created. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had and for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.
  • About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776 — that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance of the people of that day and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But, that reasoning cannot be applied to the great charter.
    • Calvin Coolidge, Foundations of the Republic; Speeches and Addresses (1926), p. 451.
  • No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward a time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction cannot lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more "modern," but more ancient than those of our Revolutionary ancestors.
    • Calvin Coolidge, Foundations of the Republic; Speeches and Addresses (1926), p. 451.

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