What They Don't Teach You at School: Interesting Facts on the Declaration of Independence
Facts About The Declaration of Independence
Fact: The Revolutionary War had already begun when The Declaration of Independence was written.
Analysis: Reasons for The Declaration of Independence must not exclude political ones. The war with Great Britain had been going on for over a year and it was not going well. As the delegates met in Philadelphia, the invasion of Canada had just failed and colonial leaders had received news that German mercenaries were on their way to fight for the British.
The war needed a purpose. The Continental Congress had to rally the colonists and they had to elicit help from foreign powers. The best way to do so was to declare independence.
In addition to political reasons for The Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier writes in her introduction to The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of The United States that "in 1776 the Americans decided that the preservation of their liberty was incompatible with monarchy and hereditary rule" (Maier 2).
Fact: After the initial excitement over independence, the declaration was not considered a critical document for 30 years.
Analysis: Ideas contained in George Mason's Virginia's Declaration of Rights had a greater influence on the creation of state governments and on the United States Constitution after the Revolutionary War. It wasn't until the early 1800s that the Declaration, along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, became "statements of belief and practice written during the American Revolution to which generation after generation of Americans has returned for guidance"1 (1).
Fact: The introduction and conclusion contain four references to God.
Analysis: The Declaration's appeals to deity give insight to many of the reasons for The Declaration of Independence:
- This appeal to God is one of many historical "God is on our side" wartime appeals. It's probable that the British used the same argument to rally its people.
- The Declaration's authors needed to win the support and recognition of foreign powers and needed to establish just cause for their rebellion.
- The founding fathers understood the nature of man.
It is the third reason I wish to address. By acknowledging a higher power, the Declaration establishes the necessity of limited government. Because the founding fathers understood human nature--that any time an individual gains power and authority, he or she is likely to abuse it--they understood the need for limiting governmental authority.
The Declaration clearly states that natural rights, given to all human beings by a divine creator, are not government's to give or take away. It is this very notion that many wish to eliminate from American governmental philosophy. Successful attempts to strike the word God from the Pledge of Allegiance serves not the people who pledge their allegiance, but politicians and judges, attempting to remove one more concept that limits their powers.
A study of history shows that totalitarian regimes eliminate all barriers to absolute power. It behooves the scholar to understand, therefore, this principle before "all men are endowed by their Creator government with certain unalienable rights to which nature's God government entitles them."