July 4th is just days away, which means most of us are gearing up for fireworks and barbecues. And how, you may ask, does any of that relate to Classic Literature? Well, it's all about history: our past, present, and looking forward to our future -- with words. And it's all about those men who sat down to write the Declaration of Independence years ago... 224 to be more precise.
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11th and June 28th of 1776, the Declaration of Independence is probably America's most cherished literary symbol. Thomas Paine has already begun to set the stage for this document, when he published his "Common Sense" in January 1776. By May, 8 colonies were already supporting independence. Eventually, through the course of those few months, the Congress met, revised the Declaration, and eventually adopted the document, which was made up of five parts: the introduction; the preamble; the body, which can be divided into two sections; and the conclusion.
It was necessary for the Declaration to lay out the reasons that this break with the British Empire was necessary. Then, drawing from prominent 18th-centruy philosophy, the preamble lays out the principles: "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... "
Having laid the groundwork for cause, the Declaration continues on by laying out the evidence of the "long train of abuses and usurpations." The rest of the body of the work explains how the colonists attempted to appeal for redress; the conclusion then states, "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, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved."
It's actually quite amazing -- that a few words, written down and adopted, could have brought about the Revolutionary War... and eventually Independence.