The Definition of the Declaration of Independence States is the official act issued by Thomas Jefferson. It is a statement that declares the total freedom of 13 American Colonies from Great Britain.
The Declaration of Independence is a statement that was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776, and it was adopted by the 13 American colonies which formed the Continental Congress.
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Now, the Declaration of Independence said that King George III of Britain had violated the rights of American colonists. He had put into effect different laws and taxes on the American colonists that seemed unfair to them and took away some of their rights. So, the Continental Congress convened to try to come up with a solution.
Fighting had already been going on for over a year at the time that this Second Continental Congress occurred, and they decided there wasn’t going to be a peaceful way to solve things with Britain. So, they declared themselves independent. They said King George had violated the rights of these American colonists, and therefore, it announced that the 13 Colonies considered themselves as independent States, no longer part of the British Empire. Instead, they said that they formed a new union of those 13 states, should be known as the United States of America. So, they had tried to work things out peacefully. King George did not take back those laws and taxes, instead, he fought the American colonists whenever they rebelled against following those laws and paying those taxes. And so, after a year of fighting, the Continental Congress met again and they formed this Declaration of Independence. They declared that they were independent of Britain and that they were their own nation now, to be known as the United States of America. They were no longer part of the British Empire.
John Adams was a leader of the Continental Congress, and he pushed for independence. So first, not everyone was for independence. They thought that was a little radical, they thought maybe they could still make things work with Britain, but after a year of fighting, John Adams was still pushing independence and it was sounding better to everyone. So, on July 2nd, 1776, all 13 Colonies unanimously approved this idea to declare themselves independent from Britain. John Adams convinced the committee to allow Thomas Jefferson to write the draft. So, Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Congress edited the draft, and the final version was ratified, which means approved, everyone agreed to it, and it was ratified by all 13 Colonies, or states as they were to be known, on July 4th, 1776. So, this date is our date of independence. The day we celebrate as Independence Day was the day that our Declaration of Independence had been edited, and everyone signed it and approved it, everyone, who was there from the 13 Colonies as representatives at this Continental Congress.
Now, Jefferson was influenced by John Locke, who was a 17th-century writer, and this was evidenced in his ideas about natural rights. John Locke had written about natural rights, and Jefferson included this in his Declaration. Jefferson asserted that people had natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So, John Locke had said people have the right to life, liberty, and private property. So, Jefferson subbed “happiness” for “private property.” While, of course, I’m sure he still meant that people could have private property, he put it in a little bit broader terms. Everyone is entitled to live, everyone is entitled to liberty, to be free, and everyone is entitled to pursue happiness. And they felt like King George had infringed on some of those natural rights. And so, Jefferson was using most of what John Locke had written whenever he wrote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as natural rights that were being violated in the Declaration of Independence. Now, Jefferson felt and had the Declaration reflect that the purpose of government was to protect the rights of people. Individual rights were more important than the individual’s obligations to the state. King George had the opposite idea, and he was trying to force his laws and his taxes on the colonists. So, people who were signing the Declaration of Independence were agreeing that people’s individual rights were more important than their obligation to the state, or to their government. So, people’s individual rights should come first, and then their obligations to the state. And that is what Jefferson was trying to reflect in the Declaration of Independence.
So, on July 4th, 1776, all 13 Colonies, all representatives from those 13 Colonies to be known as states, ratified the Declaration of Independence, which declared that King George had violated rights of American colonists, and now, those 13 Colonies were to be known as the United States of America, a separate, new nation that was no longer tied to the British Empire.
Next Lesson: Drafting the Constitution