Documents: Revolution / Declaration of Independence
The Declaration contains five different sections. The first section is a Preamble which begins with the words “when in the course of human events” and then proceeds to state that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” requires us to declare the causes which compel us to separate. The second section outlines what Jefferson calls four “self-evident truths”: (1) All men are created equal; (2) They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable natural rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; (3) To secure these rights governments which derive their power from the consent of the governed are established; and (4) Whenever government fails to secure the peoples’ rights, it is their right to alter or abolish it and set up a new government. This second section is where the influence of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government and George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights on Jefferson’s writing is most evident. The third and by far the longest section is a list of twenty-seven specific grievances against the King and Parliament but without using the word “Parliament.” Jefferson placed the most serious grievances, often called “war crimes,” at the end of the long list. The fourth section reminds the world that the colonists had tried to resolve their differences with England but with no success. The fifth and final section is the formal declaration of war which concludes with this famous line: “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.”
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign.