Declaration of Independence adopted
The Declaration of Independence - adopted July 4, 1776 - not only announced the birth of a new nation. It set forth philosophy of human freedom which was thenceforth to be dynamic force in the entire western world. It rested, not upon particular grievances, but upon a broad basis of individual liberty which could command general support throughout America, and its political philosophy is clear:
"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 a 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."
"These truths" were not creatures of Jefferson's mind; they formed a political theory "self-evident" to his contemporaries and to most men since. The sources of his particular thinking and phraseology lay in the work of English political philosophers, specifically James Harrington's Oceana and, even more important, John Locke's Second Treatise On Government. But the source of the spirit of the document was the awakening consciousness of men that government should exist for the people, not the people for the government. To Jefferson, it was the function and purpose of government to help men - to protect them in their life, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness - not to oppress them or misuse them.
The Declaration of Independence served a purpose far beyond that of a public notice of separation. Its ideas inspired mass fervor for the American cause, for it instilled among ordinary folk a sense of their own importance, inspiring them to struggle for personal freedom, self-government, and a dignified place in society. And, by centering its attention on an indictment of the English king, George III, the Declaration made the conflict a personal contest - not a protest against lifeless statutes and an abstract Parliament, but a struggle against an immediate enemy of flesh and blood. By giving to the common man a personal cause and a personal enemy, the ideas of the Declaration brought the Revolution within range of popular aspiration and strengthened it with the force of popular emotion.
|Colorful pennants were raised and festive colonists joined in celebrations marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia July 4, 1776.|