Declaration of Independence (1776)

Breakdown of the Declaration of Independence

Joe Berlyak has taken the liberty of translating the Declaration of Independence in modern-day language so as to make it easier to understand and digest.

Introduction

“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. ” 

 
 

Translation:
 

This first passage sets up the rest of the document. First off, they make it clear that the move is a necessary one. It was time for them to break from the political bands that connected the two countries together. Secondly, this move to separate was a right given to them by Nature and God. Finally, the call for independence may come when there are specific reasons or causes that lead to this separation. 

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 security.”


Translation:  


The preamble simply defines the political beliefs of our founders. Government is there for the people and nothing more. When the government becomes too destructive, the people have the right to abolish it and create a new government. The decision to end the current government is never an easy one, and there should always be clear reasons as to why. However, when there is a long history of abuse of power, it is the peoples' right and duty to essentially fire the government. 

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.


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.


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 Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:


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 offenses


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:


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 of 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.”


Translation:  
 

The third part of the Declaration is the indictment of King George III. The founders created a list of 'repeated injuries' as a basis for their independence. These grievances focused on areas of legislation, judicial rule, military concerns, and failure to protect.  


The legislative concerns focused on the fact that King George III would not allow them representation in the Parliament. Moreover, he refused to let the colonies have their own meetings or government. Although they lacked any representation, they were still forced to accept the laws given to them. He even refused certain territories protection unless they agreed to no representation. Finally, they accused the King of holding secret meetings off the record where he bullied others to agree with him.  


The judicial concerns addressed the concerns the colonies had with their lack of judicial system. They believed that King George III made the judges dependent upon him and controlled their decision. In addition, he would not allow the colonists to have a trial by jury in the colonies, but forced them to go back to England.


The founders were also fearful of the military action in the colonies. They did not agree with King George III's decision to keep armed soldiers stationed in the colonies during times of peace. 


Furthermore, the colonies were denied any military action of their own, forcing them to rely on Great Britain for any military protection or concern.


Finally, the Declaration addressed the lack of protection by Great Britain. King George III had cut off their trade to other parts of the world. The colonists had continually asked for help to protect their people on sea or from the Native Americans, and he had refused. He had imposed taxes on them without their consent. Worst of all, he had declared war on them by burning their towns and destroying their people. At the very moment they were writing the Declaration of Independence, the King was sending more troops to the colonies. 

Denunciation

“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. 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.”


Translation:


The Declaration of Independence basically covers and finishes their case for separating from England in the hopes for a peaceful resolution, but with the clear understanding that war is almost inevitable. This section of the Declaration also notes the attempts that had been made to peacefully work things out as many of the Americans still felt that England was their brother and had appealed to more prominent people among the British. Still to their utter disappointment and their requests the colonies remained ignored and unsuccessful. 

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. ”


[The 56 signatures on the Declaration were arranged in six columns:]


Georgia: Button Gwinnett Lyman Hall George Walton


North Carolina: William Hooper Joseph Hewes John Penn


South Carolina: Edward Rutledge Thomas Heyward, Jr. Thomas Lynch, Jr. Arthur Middleton


Massachusetts: John Hancock


Maryland: Samuel Chase William Paca Thomas Stone Charles Carroll of Carrollton


Virginia: George Wythe Richard Henry Lee Thomas Jefferson Benjamin Harrison Thomas Nelson, Jr. Francis Lightfoot Lee Carter Braxton


Pennsylvania: Robert Morris Benjamin Rush Benjamin Franklin John Morton George Clymer James Smith George Taylor James Wilson George Ross


Delaware: Caesar Rodney George Read Thomas McKean


New York: William Floyd Philip Livingston Francis Lewis Lewis Morris


New Jersey: Richard Stockton John Witherspoon Francis Hopkinson John Hart Abraham Clark


New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett William Whipple


Massachusetts: Samuel Adams John Adams Robert Treat Paine Elbridge Gerry


Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins William Ellery


Connecticut: Roger Sherman Samuel Huntington William Williams Oliver Wolcott


New Hampshire: Matthew Thornton”  


Translation:


In conclusion, the representatives of the United States of America and the people of the colonies had seen existent conditions that required a change in government structure and policy. The conclusion states 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.”