Study Guide

Declaration of Independence Main Idea

By Thomas Jefferson

  • Main Idea

    The King of England is treating the colonies terribly (peep the enclosed list of offenses for reference). Since they are, you know, human beings, the colonists have inherent rights as people, which their government is supposed to protect.

    Instead, the British government seems to have given in to the Dark Side and become tyrannical, taking advantage of the colonists without acknowledging their rights or allowing them representation. (Boo; hiss.) So they're saying bye-bye Britain and are going to start their own country, complete with a better government that they create themselves.

    In the immortal words of the Von Trapp Family Singers: "So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen good-bye."

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Looking at the bigger picture, what's the case that Jefferson's making for independence? What is it about the English government's actions that the colonists are against?
    2. What do you notice about the language of the list of offenses that Jefferson writes? Why do you think he uses those words or phrases?
    3. Do you think the Declaration is a convincing argument for American independence? Why or why not?
    4. Which section of the Declaration do you think is the most effective, and why?

    Chew on This

    Jefferson put that "human rights" bit in a prime position in the Declaration, because otherwise the British government wouldn't have taken the text seriously.

    Since the Declaration of Independence wasn't sent to King George III (it was only really written for Americans), the text isn't meant to appeal to, or be considered by, the British.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    By the time the Declaration of Independence is penned, the English colonies in North America have been around for a whopping hundred and fifty years. And then England starts doing a bunch of not-so-nice things, and passing a bunch of laws that take advantage of the colonies without granting them representation in Parliament.

    For obvious reasons, the colonists are none too pleased, and they eventually decide enough is enough, declaring themselves an independent nation. (Woo-hoo! 'Murica!)

    The Text

    The purpose of the Declaration of Independence isn't just to say that the colonies are now independent from Britain, but also to rationally explain why such a separation is necessary. (The "rational" part is uber-important: they can't just say "Because Britain sucks.")

    First, Jefferson first discusses the inherent rights of human beings, and how government is meant to protect those rights. Next up? He launches into a more specific list of abuses that the English government has inflicted on the colonies, which demonstrate how those human rights have been violated. Oh, and he also mentions that time when the colonists tried to get the British people on their side, and got no response. You know, just to reiterate why they needed total independence from the mother country.

    The text contains big ideas about the role of government in relation to the people, as well as historical reasons why the colonies need to be independent. Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers are looking for government created by the people for the purpose of their protection, which is what they say will be implemented in their new country.

    In other words, go away King George; we don't want you in our club anymore. You're breaking way too many of the rules and it is not cool.

    TL;DR

    King George III had been doing some shady things in his American colonies, and the colonists get super peeved, so they send him a very strongly worded letter saying they're starting a shiny new club across the pond…and he's not welcome.

      
  • Questions

    1. Do you think that the men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence really believed that "all men are created equal"? How would that idea be different then than now?
    2. Was it right for the colonies to declare independence? If you were a colonist at that time, which side do you think you would have supported?
    3. Did Jefferson's vision of government hold true when it was actually created? Does it today?
    4. Do you think the structure of the Declaration of Independence is the most effective it could be? Would you change the order of any of the parts, or change the way Jefferson emphasizes certain ideas?
    5. What is Jefferson's strongest argument, or strongest piece of evidence for independence?