Declaration of Independence

When reading the Declaration of Independence, it is important to recognize why it was written. As Prof. Randy Barnett said in his “The Declaration of Independence Annotated,” the Declaration  “constituted high treason against the Crown,” (p. 1) and anyone who signed it would be executed as a traitor. As such, the content of the Declaration was meant to justify the Americans’ supposed “treason,” and explain why it was not, in fact, treason at all.

A complete throwing-off of the British government, however, could not simply be justified with “the Crown has made some mistakes, done some bad things.” The Americans themselves stated this in the beginning of the Declaration, saying that “mankind are more disposed to suffer… than to right themselves,” and only when subjected to a “long train of abuses and usurpations” does it become necessary to take action against the government. In summary, extreme grievances were required to justify the Americans’ extreme actions.

It is hard to believe that the writers of the Declaration of Independence genuinely believed the Crown’s sole intent in all their actions was to systemically violate the rights of the Americans. However, this was what they had to claim in order to justify themselves. With this context, the very one-sided and almost whiny nature of the Declaration can be better understood. It is meant to be persuasive above all else.

The grievances themselves aren’t very interesting. However, the ideas about government’s role brought up are. The fundamental claims the Declaration makes are that, one, everyone has certain unalienable rights, and that, two, the job of the government is to secure those rights for the people.  This is somewhat different from the idea that the job of government is to act in the best interests of the country, which, from what I can tell, was the more widely-held view at the time. In the ladder view, the people can often fall by the wayside in favour of expansionism or other such ideals. One of the flaws with our current world, in my opinion, is the stark divisions between countries. The mindset of “this is my country, and it’s better than yours” has been very, very common for a long time now.  We seem to forget that all a “country” is is land. The truly important thing is the people. Governments weren’t created to protect countries, they were created to protect the rights of individuals. Now, however, living in times where a single person can be in charge of an entire third of a continent, of course we’ve lost sight of the individual.

Leave a Reply