The Declaration Then and Now
The year was sixteen hundred and eighty-nine and a man by the name of John Locke wrote Second Treatise on Government (Zinn 73). In it, Locke wrote that in a natural state everyone, all people, are born free and equal, and possess certain rights. He said that these “natural rights” were life, liberty, and property. He also said that the evildoers who conspired to deprive others of their life, liberty, or property ruined the good life of the state of nature (Locke). The only way to protect these rights is by joining together to form governments. The power of government, then, stems from the consent of the governed, which entrust the government with responsibility for protecting their lives, liberty, and possessions. Should the government fail in their task, the people have the right to revolt and institute a new government.
From this, Americans drew one of the most important concepts. In the Declaration of Independence, the founders used Locke’s theory to justify their independence from Great Britain. Americans were justified in revolting against the King, the founders declared, because the King deprived them of their rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. Thomas Jefferson substituted the phrase “pursuit of Happiness” for the word “property”, in order to give the document a more idealistic tone.
The colonists were tired of being mistreated by the British. They wanted to separate themselves completely from British rule. The King allowed the quartering of soldiers, taxes without consent, cutting of trade relations, taking away of charters, obstructed the Laws of Naturalization, and countless other offences against the colonists (Jefferson 685-86). They had been abused long enough.
In June of 1776, Congress appointed a committee to draft a statement to the world presenting the colonies’ case for independence. The committee consisted of John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The committee assigned Jefferson the task of writing the original document. After a few minor alterations made by Franklin and Adams, the document was submitted to Congress. Church bells rang out over Philadelphia on July 4, 1776…signaling that the Declaration of Independence was approved and officially adopted by the Continental Congress. They were now a free country.
Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. The words he wrote were, “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 (Jefferson 685). “…created equal…,” those are very powerful words. Equality, meaning being the same, on the...