The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence occurred at high noon on July 8, 1776, in the Old State House yard in Philadelphia (what is now Independence Hall). It was ratified on July 2, 1776 and published on July 4, 1776

The Talking Heads are all adither over the mess that DT has made of Independence Day on the Mall in D.C. So….forget about the tanks, and his pep rally at the Lincoln Memorial (desecration claims seem apropos to me), and the Air Force One flyover. The Man Who is a Legend in His Own Mind will have his moment emulating Putin, and Kim Jong Un among others but we need to keep our minds on the Prize. The Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence and Its Legacy

“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.”

So begins the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. But what was the Declaration? Why do Americans continue to celebrate its public announcement as the birthday of the United States, July 4, 1776? While that date might just mean a barbecue and fireworks to some today, what did the Declaration mean when it was written in the summer of 1776?

1) On the one hand, the Declaration was a formal LEGAL DOCUMENT that announced to the world the reasons that led the thirteen colonies to separate from the British Empire. Much of the Declaration sets forth a list of abuses that were blamed on King George III. One charge levied against the King sounds like a Biblical plague: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” In this it is a fundamentally a condemnation of tyranny, rule that ignores the law and the rights upon which good law is based.

2) The Declaration was not only legalistic, but practical too. Americans hoped to get financial or military support from other countries that were traditional enemies of the British. That the countries to whom they were appealing were still governed by monarchs and hereditary aristocracy was not lost on the Founders. Franklin captured this in these words: “I know that it is not a little bizarre that we are proposing that we should lie down other tyrants to rid ourselves of George and his Lords, but those tyrants are other people’s concern and perhaps those people will one day read this testament and turn to the path of liberty for themselves.

3) The Declaration’s most famous sentence reads: “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.” Even today, this inspirational language expresses a profound commitment to human equality.

This ideal of equality has certainly influenced the course of American history. Early women’s rights activists at SENECA FALLS in 1848 modeled their “DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS” in precisely the same terms as the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they said, “that all men and women are created equal.” Similarly, the African-American anti-slavery activist DAVID WALKER challenged white Americans in 1829 to “See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language?” Walker dared America to live up to its self-proclaimed ideals. If all men were created equal, then why was slavery legal?

4) Yes, the ideal of full human equality has been a major legacy (and ongoing challenge) of the Declaration of Independence. But the signers of 1776 did not have quite that radical an agenda. The possibility for sweeping social changes was certainly discussed in 1776. For instance, ABIGAIL ADAMSsuggested to her husband John Adams that in the “new Code of Laws” that he helped draft at the Continental Congress, he should, “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them.” It didn’t work out that way. Those who ratified the declaration were ALL men, ALL educated, ALL privileged, ALL white and MOSTLY well to do. They were the elite in their society.

Thomas Jefferson provides the classic example of the contradictions of the Revolutionary Era. Although he was the chief author of the Declaration, he also owned slaves, as did many of his fellow signers. They did not see full human equality as a positive social goal. Nevertheless, Jefferson was prepared to criticize slavery much more directly than most of his colleagues. His original draft of the Declaration included a long passage that condemned King George for allowing the slave trade to flourish. This implied criticism of slavery — a central institution in early American society — was deleted by a vote of the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS before the delegates signed the Declaration.

5) So what did the signers intend by using such idealistic language? Look at what follows the line, “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.

These lines suggest that the whole purpose of GOVERNMENT is to secure the PEOPLE’S RIGHTS and that government gets its power from “the CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.” If that consent is betrayed, then “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish” their government. When the Declaration was written, this was a radical statement. The idea that the people could reject a monarchy (based on the superiority of a king) and replace it with a republican government (based on the consent of the people) was a revolutionary change.

While the signers of the Declaration thought of “the people” more narrowly than we do today, they articulated principles that are still vital markers of American ideals. And while the Declaration did not initially lead to equality for all, it did provide an inspiring start on working toward equality.

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Proud to be an Independent Progressive. I am a progressive- a one time Eisenhower Republican (from 1965 through 2004)who is now a Democrat. I live in a very RED STATE and am a community activist with a very BLUE AGENDA. I was a professor of history, and am now a researcher and gentleman farmer. My political positions are mixed - thus my preferred identification as a Progressive Independent. I am conservative on matters of military intervention, in regard to abortion, immigration, the public school system, gun rights, taxation, voter ID. But I am a traditional conservative, a Buckley, National Review, Eisenhower Republican..... I am a liberal on matters of health care care, funding education, taxation (yes one can be both liberal and conservative on this), civil rights, and alternative energy development/climate change.

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Dajuan Candle
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The Declaration of Independence was very well written, and as you pointed out, it were purposely edited to remove Jefferson’s mention of the slave trade. Such cannot be mentioned in the same breath and on the same paper as the “elite” class. No, no way.

MLK used to love to quote the famed founding document. He did so as a reminder to those who adore it of just how unjust and unequal America really is.

One day, as King said in other words (not verbatim), we as a nation will practice what we preach.

As of now, this year far removed from then, it is something we have yet to do. Had we lived up to the words so well written certain results would be apparent and evident, the ERA would have long ago been passed and the oppressed would have been made whole. But sadly, those things may never be, and we as a nation may never live up to our potential.

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Steppenwolf
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Why is the Declaration of independence a legal document? If it is, of what sort? And, I thought that all-caps “shouting” isn’t allowed. Shouting it doesn’t make it true or accurate. It was more in the nature of a lengthy formal complaint with no legal authority. It announced a revolution, something that is necessarily extra-legal.

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AdLib
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Steppenwolf, as Kalima explained, the two of us are the owners and Admin of PlanetPOV and we have been for 10 years.

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The good news here is, we have a zero tolerance here for trolls and personal attacks. It is part of our mission to provide an environment where people feel free to express themselves without the concern that they will be insulted and attacked for saying something, whether popular or unpopular with anyone else.

We’re about substance here, real opinions on real issues and agreements or disagreements based on the issues on the table, opinions and facts. Personal attacks are not part of any reasonable discussion, they are an intentional distraction and a petty waste of everyone’s time and energy. Folks here are free to disagree whenever and wherever on the issues but choosing instead to attack someone personally is beneath the quality of the community here.

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That means that you can’t engage in insults or personal attacks against any member and no member may engage in insults or personal attacks against you. Feel free to pursue the issue, not the person.

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TOCB
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Brilliantly done Murph. Although we still struggle to live up to our creed as put forth in The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution, until January 2017 we have made steady progress in our efforts to do so. Until 1964 our government sanctioned separate by equal, which in essence means our government supported segregation, racism and racial inequality. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not and have not changed the hearts and minds of a large segment of European Americans, the majority of Americans embrace and indeed celebrate diversity and equality. Trump and his supporters promote division and liberty and justice for SOME. THAT is NOT what the USA stands for. We are better than Trump and his supporters.

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