Declaration of Independence Simplified - Easy American History
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Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence
Declaration of Independence (1776)

May 2016 - In 1776, soon after the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, the leaders of the war got together to write a letter to the King of England, George III. They wanted to explain why they were fighting to be their own country, independent of England. This is what they had to say (but in easier words):

Sometimes one group of people decide to split off from another group, and to become an independent country, as the laws of Nature and of God say that they can. But when this happens, if they want other people to respect them, they should explain why they are splitting off.

We think these things are obviously true:

So whenever any government is getting in the way of these rights, people have the right to change it or get rid of it, and to make a new government, in whatever way seems most likely to make them safe and happy.
People should not change their government without a good reason, so people usually suffer as long as they can under the government they have, rather than change it. But when there have been a lot of problems for a long time, it is their right and their duty to throw off that government, and to set up a better government.

We here in America have suffered for a very long time, and now we should change our government. The king of England has done many bad things to us - here is a list:

When we ask him to stop, he just keeps on doing more bad things. We have tried to talk to the other people who live in England. We asked them to stop these crimes against us, but they have acted as though they were deaf. So we have to separate from England, and they will be our enemies during the war, though we hope they'll be our friends when there is peace.

So we think that God will see that we are doing the right thing when we declare that the United States are now completely independent of the King of England. We have no more political connection to England at all. And as independent states, we say that each state has the right to make war, to make peace, to make alliances with other countries, trade with other countries, and do everything else that countries do. And we promise that we will fight for our independence with the help of God - we promise by our lives, our property, and our sacred honor.

Among the men who signed this declaration of independence were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. This Declaration of Independence was an exciting letter to write - it laid out a lot of new ideas about the rights that all people should have. On the other hand, all of the people involved in writing the Declaration were rich white men. Even though they thought they themselves should have these rights, they were pretty vague about whether the same rights should apply to poor people, women, black people, or Native Americans - most of the people living in the United States at this time. Representatives of all these groups asked to be included, and some white men started out supporting their inclusion, but in the end, only rich white Christian men signed the Declaration of Independence. But even though the Declaration of Independence only applied to some people, it was a very important statement of the idea that everybody has rights.

Learn by doing: which of these are good reasons? Why?
More about the American Revolutionary War

Bibliography and further reading about the Declaration of Independence:

The United States Constitution
Thirteen Colonies
North American Government
The Iroquois
The Revolutionary War
The Civil War
Civil Rights Movement
Learning American History
Quatr.us

Learning tools for the Declaration of Independence:

A replica of the Declaration of Independence for your wall

Same Declaration of Independence, but easier to read.

Learn the Constitution board game

Or try these teacher-approved Constitution flash cards


For Presidents' Day, check out our articles about Washington in the Revolutionary War and Lincoln in the Civil War. Find out about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the other Amendments, and how Washington promised to include freedom of religion.
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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