Declaration of Independence (1776)

Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-highsm-17981

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. (full text)

Key Concepts

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was influenced by 17th century Enlightenment philosopher John Locke’s ideas on natural law, social contract, and right to revolution, and in particular, by Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1689).

The Declaration includes “self-evident” truths, that the right to revolution and separation under natural law, declares that “all men are created equal,” and “endowed” with “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” and declares that revolution is justified when a government harms these rights. The Declaration describes British rule as despotic and includes a list of grievances justifying separation, such as imposing taxes without consent, depriving colonists in many cases of a jury trial, refusing to pass laws for the public good, suspending their legislatures, quartering armed troops in the colonies, and obstructing the law. The Declaration of Independence was submitted to the British Crown and to “a candid World.” 

Relevant Examples

Declaration of Sentiments (1848)

Modeled after the Declaration of Independence and mirroring its form and text, this document signed at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 called for women’s suffrage and maintained the equality of men and women. Learn More

What We Want, What We Believe (1966)

Black Panther Party’s Platform, includes a list of 10 demands and grievances regarding the discriminatory treatment of African Americans in the United States. At the end of the document, it includes the first section of the Declaration of Independence. Learn More

References and Resources

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