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KC‑3.2.I.B (KC)
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Unit 3: Learning Objective D

Video transcript

on July 4th 1776 the delegates to the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence and we know parts of it very well for example we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal the Declaration of Independence was really the point of no return for the young United States of America making an appeal to the rest of the world to say that their time as a colony of the United Kingdom had ended now the principle author of the Declaration of Independence was this man here Thomas Jefferson I tried to find a picture of him as a young man in fact at the time he was about 10 years younger than you even see him here he was 33 so where did young Thomas Jefferson get all of the ideas that he expressed in the Declaration of Independence and what happened to those ideas once he put them down on paper in this video I'd like to explore some of the origins and effects of the Declaration of Independence now we often think that the Revolutionary War started with the Declaration of Independence we think of 1776 as being this opening moment of the Revolution in fact parts of the Revolutionary War had been going on for some time it was in 1765 more than a decade earlier that some of the first unrest over taxation specifically the Stamp Act had begun in 1773 the famous Boston Tea Party when a group of colonists dumped over 300 crates of tea into Boston Harbor had happened and in 1775 over a year before the Declaration of Independence the first shots of the Revolutionary War had taken place outside Boston at the towns of Lexington and Concord so by the time the delegates had met in Philadelphia the Revolutionary War had been a shooting war for more than a year so why was it that in July of 1776 the delegates finally made the Declaration of Independence well the primary reason that they did it at this time was because they wanted help and they were particularly eager to get the assistance of the nation of France which had been a longtime enemy of the United Kingdom and the delegates really knew that the new United States of America would have no hope of winning a war against a massive imperial power like Great Britain without the help of another world power such as France so in a way what Jefferson was doing in the Declaration of Independence wasn't so much declaring but rather explaining why the states were declaring themselves independent with the hope that they could get the sympathy and the help of the international community so let's read some of the Declaration of Independence and I know that this is a gigantic block of text here but bear with me we'll go through it fairly quickly the unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America and you'll notice here that he specifically points out that there are 13 United States this is important because it gives you a sense that they aren't really thinking of the individual former colonies now States as one larger country but rather as a collection of states a confederation of Allied states instead of a single nation 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 here's this explanation part saying we feel it necessary to explain why we want to separate from Great Britain 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 so I think this might be the most important passage of the Declaration of Independence and let me tell you why in this paragraph you can really see the influence of the Enlightenment on Jefferson's thought now the Enlightenment was a period in the 1600s and 1700s when people began to explore scientific observation and reason they became more interested in observing the world around them and trying to make reasoned arguments from what they saw as compared to accepting the religious explanations for how the world worked and during the Enlightenment many philosophers began to rethink government as well of questioning whether the governmental system in Europe and other places was the right system there was one philosopher in particular who really captured Jefferson's imagination and his name was John Locke so John Locke was an English philosopher who had lived in the 1600s and he wrote a book that had really influenced Jefferson and many thinkers in this time period called two treatises on government and there are two really important points in Locke's work one was the idea of natural rights and what Locke meant by natural rights our rights that were endowed by nature that all people were born with now if you think about Europe in this time period there was a sense that some people were born with more rights than others in fact there was the idea of the Divine Right of Kings that the king or monarch of any sort had been born the king because God wanted that person to rule well Locke rejects that he says when people are born they're all born the same and they all have rights that can to be given away that are unalienable and those are life liberty and property sounds pretty familiar doesn't it the other important idea that Locke had it's the idea of the social contract the idea of the social contract was that government came from the people that society members got together and agreed on what the forms of government should be so that the only just government was one that took into account the opinions of the people who live within it you see that here two governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed and there's a third that luck suggests that Jefferson also gets at which is that when governments become tyrannical when they do not abide by the social contract it is the right of the people to rebel alright back to the Declaration so most of the rest of the Declaration is just a list of grievances of what the king has done to the colonies that has made them very angry and this is an extremely abridged list of them I highly recommend you read the entire declaration because I think it gives you a really good sense of what the colonists were thinking at this time period but here are some of the highlights Jefferson says that the king has kept among us in times of peace standing armies without the consent of our legislatures so those are the British regulars who've been stationed in North America for a long time for cutting off our trade with all parts of the world the navigation acts that said that the colonies could only trade with Great Britain for imposing taxes on us without our consent the idea of taxation without representation which really motivated the colonists to rebel and so forth and so on now it's worth noting that the Declaration of Independence as an explanation hoping to get France on the side of the new United States worked very well the United States allied with France which led them to win the Revolutionary War in 1783 but as we close it's worth pondering what it was that Thomas Jefferson really meant by the phrase all men are created equal the Revolutionary War didn't abolish slavery in the United States in fact Jefferson himself owns over a hundred enslaved people of African descent so when Jefferson said all men are created equal was he thinking only of all white men was he thinking only of elite white men after all after the Revolution only a handful of propertied elite men could vote but then there's this larger idea here he's saying that your ordinary man wasn't born any different than someone who was born a king so why should someone who was born black be different than someone who was born white it's hard to imagine how Jefferson separated those things in his mind certainly others at the time period realized that there was an inherent contradiction between slavery and also between the rights of women and the idea that all men are created equal over time the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence would go on to spur many different movements for independence and civil rights the most notable of which being the French Revolution which took much of its rhetoric from the American Revolution and later in 1848 the first women's rights movement would gather at Seneca Falls New York and release what they called the declaration of sentiments which began all men and women are created equal so Jefferson's ideas here are both deeply radical insisting that ordinary people are just as good as Kings and even more entitled to decide their own form of government but that revolution only went so far it didn't change much about the status of everyday citizens in the United States but it put forward an ideal which we've been working toward ever since