Q. 8: What Did the Declaration of Independence Do?

Painting of the surrender of Cornwallis
The Declaration of Independence was published on July 4, 1776.

To pass the US citizenship test, you will have to answer 10 of a possible 100 questions. The following question is from the USCIS test.

What did the Declaration of Independence do?

Acceptable Answers:

  • announced our independence (from Great Britain)
  • declared our independence (from Great Britain)
  • said that the United States is free (from Great Britain)


The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:

The Declaration of Independence

First, the Declaration of Independence stated that the United States is an independent nation. Second, it morally justified the colonists’ actions. It includes a long list of grievances, where the authors explain why the British government was unjust and why the American revolution was inevitable.

The declaration also established that the United States is a nation that espouses freedom. The declaration pronounces that “all men are created equal” and have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It states that people should not rebel over minor issues but that there were compelling reasons to revolt against King George III.

What Is the Declaration of Independence?

The Declaration of Independence is a famous proclamation by American revolutionaries who insisted on the right self rule. The early colonists viewed the British government as doing such a poor job of governing that rebellion was necessary. It is an enormously influential document that has inspired people and nations around the world.

The document states that people have an inherent right to govern their own lives. It observes that anyone living under an oppressive government can and should revolt against it. In this sense, early America was guided by numerous living and ancient philosophers.

The Declaration of Independence did not appear until after the Revolutionary War had been underway for some time. Initially, the colonists were fighting for more rights under the British government. However, the war intensified their grievances against the King and made them favor permanent political separation.

What Were the Intolerable Acts?

The Intolerable Acts were punitive acts that the British government used to punish the colonists for the Boston Tea Party and other rebellious activities. Many colonists saw these acts as unconstitutional and pushing the envelope beyond what they could tolerate.

The people petitioned the King to remove them from the statute books but were unsuccessful. Actions such as boycotting British goods failed to change the King’s mind. With neither side willing to compromise, war broke out in 1775.

Most People Did Not Want Complete Independence During the War

Even following early battles, the majority of the population wanted to remain British subjects, but with more rights than before. However, it was evident that Great Britain wanted to crush the rebellion and that no accommodation was possible.

More people began to talk about declaring independence. The Continental Army was strong enough to make the British withdraw eventually.

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense Pamphlet

In early 1776, Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” a pamphlet that argued for an independent republic free of the British Monarchy. While the British government passed the Prohibitionary Act, which denounced American ships as enemy vessels. This turned the colonists further against the British and made them see themselves as already living in a separate country.

A Five Person Committee Created the Declaration

Five men were responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence:

  • John Adams of Massachusetts
  • Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania
  • Thomas Jefferson of Virginia
  • Robert R. Livingston of New York
  • Roger Sherman of Connecticut


The committee decided on an outline or structure that the declaration would follow and chose Jefferson to finalize the first draft.

Thomas Jefferson Was the Primary Author

Unlike the constitution, the Declaration of Independence has a primary author, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson contributed more to the Declaration of Independence than any any of his contemporaries. His writing includes phrases such as “all men are created equal” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which are frequently quoted and used to make political arguments today.

The Vote for Independence

The Continental Congress met in July 1776 to vote on whether or not to declare independence. Twelve of the thirteen colonies voted to become independent on the first day.

It took another few days, until July 4, for congress to approve of the declaration. The Declaration of Independence consists of six sections: the introduction, preamble, indictment, failed warnings, denunciation, and conclusion.

Introduction

The introduction focuses on how people have a natural right to insist on independence as long as their grounds are just and reasonable. It also says that people should explain the reasoning behind seeking independence from an existing state.

Preamble

The preamble clarifies that people only have the right to reject their governments if they are governed badly. It says that when “a long train of abuses and usurpations” makes the government unjust, the people can and should revolt against it.

Indictment

The indictment is a long list of British government abuses that prove they governed the colonies unjustly. The colonists mention the King refusing to pass necessary laws that the colonies need immediately and dissolving the representative houses for no good reason.

The declaration also mentions a lack of fair jury trials, taxes, and refusing to allow the colonists to trade with other parts of the world. It also highlights the violence of the Revolutionary War and how the British government rejects the colonists’ petitions.

Failed Warnings

The declaration argues that the colonists repeatedly tried to warn the British Monarch about the nature of their oppressive their rule and blames the British for their failure to act.

Denunciation

The text then briefly finalizes that the states will no longer accept British rule.

Conclusion

The conclusion reaffirms that people should revolt when it is just and necessary. It lays the blame squarely at the feet of the British and declares that the thirteen colonies are now independent states.

What Influenced the Declaration?

Like the constitution, many earlier texts about freedom inspired the declaration of independence. The 1689 English declaration of rights greatly influenced the Americans.

Publication and Effects in the United States

After the declaration was printed, hundreds of copies were sent to many parts of North America. It was read to audiences and reprinted in newspapers all over the country. The Declaration of Independence was also read to the army, hoping it would inspire them to fight more valiantly.

When people read or heard the Declaration of Independence, they often smashed statues and other things representing royal authority. A vandalized metal statue of King George III was used to make ammunition.

Where are the Documents Today?

Officially, the original Declaration of Independence is the printed rather than handwritten. A copy was printed on July 4, 1776, with Jefferson supervising the printing. There is also a carefully handwritten (engrossed) copy of the declaration, which the revolutionaries signed.

The handwritten copy is what you can see in the national archives today. It has been available for the public to visit for a long time. During World War 2, it was temporarily moved to another location for safekeeping.

Influence on Other Countries

After publication in the United States, copies were sent to other countries, including Spanish colonies, where the declaration was banned. The Declaration of Independence was an enormous step forward for democracy.

It was well received by the people of France and contributed to the French revolution. It may have also influenced other revolutions, including the Russian Revolution.

The Declaration of Independence argues that people have the right to rule themselves and reject an inadequate and oppressive government’s authority. This is still a controversial statement – a modern country will not usually let a province declare independence.

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