An educated citizenry is an essential element of self-government.
As James Madison noted, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Unfortunately, public education today is failing to prepare the next generation to govern itself.
This is especially true in the areas of civics and history.
Our youngest generations are woefully unaware of the great history and civic traditions of this country — a country which is the greatest civics experiment the world has ever seen.
Abraham Lincoln called the Declaration the “immortal emblem of Humanity.”
It is the founding document of our nation, and the signers pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” to uphold it.
Today, the Declaration of Independence still speaks the eternal truths “that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.”
Whether you know and love the Declaration of Independence or have never read it, my hope is that this eBook will bring you to a deeper understanding of its message and help you connect it to today’s political environment.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. – Dr. Ben Carson
Breaking Down the Declaration
The four Intolerable Acts were punitive laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 that:
Before studying an important document like the Declaration of Independence, it’s critical to
know the historical context while such a document was being drafted.
The Declaration of Independence was mostly set in motion by the Boston Tea Party. At that
time, the Intolerable Acts kicked off the First and Second Continental Congresses, which were
passed in response to the Boston Tea Party.
▪ Shut the Port of Boston (Boston Port Act)
▪ Revoked the charter of the colony of Massachusetts and put it under direct royal control
(Massachusetts Government Act)
▪ Required trial of British officers to be conducted in Britain rather than in the colonies
(Administration of Justice Act)
▪ Put British troops in the homes of many colonists (Quartering Act)
Despite these Intolerable Acts, the colonists did not jump straight to declaring independence.
They first made several attempts at peace with the king. In one instance, they made a petition
to the king for peace from the First Continental Congress that was rebuffed. In another
instance, they issued the Olive Branch Petition that was offered months before the Declaration.
It was also rebuffed.
With a firmer understanding of this historical context, it’s important to note that the
Declaration of Independence does three things:
1. It announces a general theory of government
2. It lists the reasons why the king has failed to live up to that standard of government
3. It declares independence
In the following pages, we will break down the sections of this founding document to give you a
greater understanding of the significance of the Declaration of Independence—and why it’s still
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Section 1: The Introduction
BREAKING DOWN THE DECLARATION
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, When in the
Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political
bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of
the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s
God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should
declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Written in one long sentence, the first section simply establishes that the 13 colonies are
looking to put an end to their political connection with Britain. And they believe that this is a
freedom given to them by both nature and God.
Finally, they understand that they should reference their reasons for ending this political
relationship. And that is something they will do in the remainder of the document.
Section 2: The Preamble
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 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that
Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and
accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while
evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are
accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the
same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right,
it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future
Beginning with one of the most famous lines in American history, The Preamble gives a general
overview of what government should look like. And it explains that the people have a right to
overthrow a government that is not living up to these ideals.
At the time, King George III in Britain felt that the rights of kings obliterated the rights of
individuals. He was very intolerant of the colonists and their desire to be independent. So, he
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BREAKING DOWN THE DECLARATION
enacted the Intolerable Acts mentioned above, which made it virtually impossible for the
colonists to enjoy freedom.
But the Founders saw the concept of government differently. And here in this section, they put
forth the ideals of what the identity of this new nation would be—a nation that valued life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
They believed that these principles are specifically given to the people by our Creator and not
by the government. That’s one of the things that distinguishes America, even today, from
most other nations around the world that tend to believe that government is the beginning
and the end.
Here, the Founders make it clear that the government’s role is simply to facilitate the rights to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for its people. And that the people should be the
central focus of a nation, rather than a government or a king.
Because Britain fails to live up to these ideals, the Founders state that they have a right and a
duty to rid themselves of such a government.
Section 3: The Indictment
|Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so|
|suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.|
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BREAKING DOWN THE DECLARATION
|He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.|
|He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.|
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
|For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:|
|For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:|
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
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BREAKING DOWN THE DECLARATION
|For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.|
|He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.|
|Having established the ideals for government—and their desire to adopt this new system—the Founders provide a list of all their grievances with King George III, demonstrating the various ways he has stolen the rights of the people.In this section, each of the Intolerable Acts is listed, but the Founders don’t stop there. They get into legislative issues they have with the king, who wouldn’t allow them to have representation in government—or even have their own meetings.Consider a line like, “For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.” That sounds very much like House Resolution 1, the so-called “For the People Act,” that the government is trying to establish|
|today.But this section addresses more than just legislative concerns. It looks at frustrations with the judicial system and how the king wouldn’t allow the people to have a trial by jury. And it gets into issues with the military, like the Quartering Act mentioned above.You may have noticed some lines that sound relevant in present day America like, “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”|
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BREAKING DOWN THE DECLARATION
This very much sounds like the Administrative State today—where the government restricts your liberty through many “officials” trying to enforce laws.
Ultimately, this section of the Declaration of Independence is about throwing off the shackles the British government has placed on the colonists. And it explains to the world the many reasons why King George is unfit to be their ruler.
Section 4: The Denunciation
|Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable|
|jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.|
After listing the various grievances with the king, the Founders turn their attention to the British people. While still referring to them as brethren, they point out that the colonists have attempted to inform the British people about how they’ve been treated by the king.
But the British people have ignored their warnings and failed to do anything about them. With that
said, the Founders complete their case for independence along with their justification for a revolution.
Section 5: The Conclusion
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,
we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
At last, the document wraps up with a final and definitive “Declaration of Independence.” The Founders make it clear that they are dissolving their relationship with Britain. And they conclude by sharing their trust in God and pledging a new unity with their colonists that will be established in a new form of government.
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BREAKING DOWN THE DECLARATION
Just like in the early days of our nation, we are living in challenging times. But it’s always darkest before dawn, and everything good in life goes through some sort of turmoil.
That’s the nature of being a human being in society.
But we have to know what our principles are. We have to know the foundations that made us into a great nation. And we have to be willing to advocate and fight for those things.
We cannot sit quietly, because that’s when evil succeeds.
Instead, we must be willing to stand for the principles that are given to us by our Judeo- Christian faith to truly love one another. And if we do, not only will America benefit, but so will the whole world.
– Dr. Ben Carson