“These United Colonies…are Free and Independent States”

5 Min read

10 Min read AND study

30 Min group discussion

On the 5 distinct parts of the Declaration, in a table for reference

On how Declaration signatures are categorized

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AVAILABLE ON PODCAST

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The moral foundation of the Constitution is in the Declaration of Independence and its principle of equal rights.

Larry P. Arnn

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Happy Birthday to the nation. The good old United States of America is 248 years old today!

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The Declaration is comprised of five distinct parts: the introduction, the preamble, the body which is broken into two sections, and the conclusion.

The length of the text or the actual word count is 1338 words including the title, so for the average reader–reading 300 words per minute– it is a four to five minute read. That said, the language can be a bit arcane and “Brittish” with important words in capitals. So, if you’re like me, it will take longer. Plan for 10 minutes because it’s worth it to undersand why this is the moral foundation of the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson authored the document with edits from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. And, Jefferson wrote in his own words what many Englishmen in the British colonies used at the time, the Queen’s English, or an evolving American variant. The Committee of Five were appointed to draft the statement and approve the document for submission to the Congress.

The language remains highly readable in modern text transcription of the original, which includes a few misspellings such as the two Ts in Brittish in the second section of the body or compleat in the 25th grievance. Though, who knows, these may have been common or acceptable spellings in the 1700s.

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Timothy Matlack actually penned the words on the parchment, because he was the clerk and scribe in the Pennsylvania State House. For readers of a certain age who may know cursive, both writing and reading it, you may wish to read a facsimile of the originally penned document.

Between July 19 and August 2 (when delegates began to sign the document), Matlack wrote out the text on a large sheet of parchment. He selected the best skin that was available, prepared his quill pens, and made sure he had a sufficient supply of ink.

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Matlack penned a new title that is visually distinctive, with large letters and flourishes: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” Under this title, the lines of text take up almost the entire width of the parchment.

Declaration of Independence and the Hand of Time, National Archives Fall 2016, Vol 48, No. 3
“The Stone facsimile engraving of the text and signatures shows how the Declaration appeared in the early 1800s.” View in National Archives Catalog

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I took the liberty–perfect word for the day–of setting down the original transcription with same language, punctuation, and mispellings in a table below for easy reading and study. I numbered the 27 grievances for quick reference with notes on the five sections.

The signatures are categorized roughly based on the geography of the colonies! Who knew? A photo below the table provides explanation on the now famous Hancock signature and why Georgia’s block of signers is first.

My family read this together when my children were little. I still laugh at number 10 because my youngest wanted to know what it meant: the swarms of Officers…..sent to harass our people and eat out their substance.

A bulk of the main body is the long list of offenses committed by the British Crown. Rereading–a subject of recent TreeHouseLetters–bears itself worthy in current times, to keep at the front of mind and in civil discourse.

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Declaration of Independence

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In Congress, July 4, 1776 [original text transcription]  Notes
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, Document link transcription from National Archives
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.
 Introduction – States that this document will “declare” the “causes” for the colonies to leave the British Empire.
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.–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.
 Preamble – Sets out principles that were already recognized to be “self-evident” by most 18th-century Englishmen.

Closes with the statement that “a long train of abuses and usurpations” gives the right and the duty to “throw off such Government.”
Will prove absolute tyranny over these States: “let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”      

Grievances follow in main body.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.1Body – First Section List of 27 abuses and usurpations, or grievances
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.
2 
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.
3 
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.
4 
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
5 
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.
6 
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.
7 
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
8 
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
9 
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
10 
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
11 
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
12 
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:
13 
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
14 
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
15 
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
16 
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
17 
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
18 
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
19 
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:
20 
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
21 
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
22 
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
23 
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
24 
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.
25 
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.
26 
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.  
27 
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.   Body – Second Section Colonists appeal in vain to their “Brittish brethren” for redress of 27 grievances above.
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.  
  
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.   Conclusion
Having stated conditions necessary for independence and showing these existed, the Declaration concludes 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.”
Text source: Declaration of Independence: A Transcription from National Archives . Table set-up for study.

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Why are the signatures of the United States Declaration of Independence structured as they are? Source link.

The blocks of signatures are categorized. . . This is roughly the order of the colonies, going South to North along the Atlantic Coast.

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Word count:  1338 words with title; 1323 words in main body

Text source: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

Note: The [above] text is a transcription of the Stone Engraving of the parchment Declaration of Independence (the document on display in the Rotunda at the National Archives Museum.) The spelling and punctuation reflects the original.

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Jul 4, 2024

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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