|8 A Declaration to the World 1776
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. . . ." Today most governments at least pay lip service to those truths. But before July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America," no nation had been founded on such principles.
Penned by 33-year-old Virginia delegate Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration was meant to explain, after a year of war, the American colonies' break with Britain. The document listed the offenses of King George III, ranging from restriction of trade to the use of foreign mercenaries. (A passage denouncing the king's promotion of slavery was cut to placate some delegates.) More important, it laid out the concept of natural rights--borrowed largely from British philosopher John Locke--that would form, in the words of Congress president John Hancock (one of 56 signatories), "the Ground & Foundation" of the U.S. government.
The Declaration was more than just one country's manifesto. It spurred Latin Americans to sever ties with Spain and the French to overthrow a king. Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh paraphrased it when he defied France. And its avowal that all men are born equal moved more than males: When the U.S. women's suffrage movement was launched in 1848, its founders modeled their declaration on Jefferson's.
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