Why Was The Declaration of Independence Written?
The Declaration of Independence was not written to express a specific philosophy, although it does; It was not written to lay the foundation for liberty and freedom, although it does; it was written for one purpose: to declare independence from Great Britain. These quotes explain this motive in more detail:
Quote: When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the political Bands which have connected them with another, Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Analysis: The opening paragraph of the document sets forth one of the main purposes of the document: to explain the reasons for wanting separation from Great Britain. The committee who wrote the Declaration understood the importance of official recognition from foreign powers and support from citizens of the world. It’s also likely the Declaration was intended to persuade colonists, many of which still favored union with the British.
Quote: The History of the present King of Great Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object and Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
Analysis: In order to substantiate their right to separate themselves from Great Britain and to convince the rest of the world that their cause was just, the Declaration’s writers–Thomas Jefferson being chief among them–needed to show the world that the British government acted in a manner that justified the colonists’ decision to “dissolve the political bands” with Great Britain. Jefferson initially followed up this accusation with numerous examples, some of which were so obscure that even leaders of the rebellion were not familiar with them.* Congressional delegates pared his list down to 27 specific injurious acts committed by the king for the “establishment of absolute tyranny over these states.”
Quote: We, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS…solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown…”
Analysis: Just in case you were confused, the committee states directly the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Its purpose is to notify the world that they are free and independent states, and more importantly, “ought to be.”
* see Pauline Maier’s brilliant history of the Declaration for more on the document’s editing.
The purpose of The Declaration of Independence, as the aforementioned quotes demonstrate, was to declare independence (something which should be obvious from the title of the document), to show foreign powers that their actions were fully justified, and to persuade citizens in England and the colonies to sympathize with their cause. One last purpose was to define what it meant to be independence states which made it into the final paragraph.
Quote: FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES…have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do.
Analysis: Attention world, we’re open for business.
Note: You’ll notice an inordinate amount of capital letters in these quotes from The Declaration of Independence. They exist in the document, and therefore, exist in my quotes.
- Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. First Vintage Books. New York. 1997.
- Images from the Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This post is part of the series: The Declaration of Independence Study Guide
- Summary and Analysis of The Declaration of Independence
- Why was The Declaration of Independence Written? Quotes & Explanation
- Significant Quotes from The Declaration of Independence
- What They Don't Teach You at School: Interesting Facts on the Declaration of Independence
- Who Wrote The Declaration of Independence and Other Facts