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Current time:0:00Total duration:8:38

Background and introduction to the United States Declaration of Independence

Video transcript

I'm here with Walter Isaacson and what are we about to talk about we're talking about the Declaration of Independence which happens as it says at top on July 4th 1776 but we have to remember is that for more than a year since April of 1775 there had been a lot of fighting going on there was a revolution happening but up until this point the fighting was mainly against what they considered to be the acts of parliament and Parliament's ministers and taxing the colonies and finally with this document they decide they're going to become the American colonies are going to become free and independent a separate country which means rebelling against the king himself George the third and this is George the third right all of his regality but you know up until they met in Congress you know with the Continental Congress gathering themselves together they pretended at least to respect George the third and they were blaming everything on the British Parliament but it was a pretty difficult thing to decide you were going to overthrow the king himself and just to be clear you know these this is Continental Congress it's easy now for us in hindsight to make it it seems like a very official thing but this was really a it was a rebel Congress it was it wasn't sanctioned in any way by kind of the formal government by the government of Great Britain right and as you see it says the 13 United States of America this is the first time they really start using the phrase United States of America they want really a country yet they were 13 different colonies and not all of them wanted to come to this Continental Congress getting them all together was quite difficult they do so partly to help George Washington's troops get funded because there's they've started the skirmishes up in Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts but by 1776 George Washington has a real army and they have to fund him and eventually they'd figure out will this Congress ought to decide are we really having a revolution are we trying to break away from the king himself and the answer here is yes and so this is the beginning of the Declaration of Independence and these three fellows on the right-hand side look very familiar they're on the committee that the Congress appoints to draft the Declaration actually the five people on the committee but these are of course the three most important Thomas Jefferson only 33 years old by far the youngest person on the committee and he's chosen to write the first draft then Benjamin Franklin who is a mentor of Jefferson's a printer from Philadelphia Franklin had just been spending you know the past two decades almost going back and forth to England to try to prevent a revolution and then John Adams the very passionate sage from the state of Massachusetts who was the one who was most in favor of revolution in fact when Franklin comes back to Philadelphia in early 1776 after having tried to hold Britain in America together most of these people didn't know whether he would be on the side of revolution or not in fact his own son William Franklin is at this time of this Declaration the royal governor of New Jersey and is staying loyal to King George and and just to once again emphasize the context the royal governor of New Jersey this wasn't like the governor of New Jersey we imagine now wasn't elected by them you know it was appointed by the king he was a royal governor and you know Franklin was proud of his son but they have this incredible split starting in 1776 will William Franklin remains loyal to the crown and loyal to King George the 3rd who had made him governor of New Jersey now one thing that you would mentioned a few seconds ago that I think is surprising is when you mentioned that Jefferson was 33 years old when he wrote the Declaration of Independence how normal was that you know back then it seemed like people did like its mature faster and but but he was still perceived as a fairly young person yes they all love to be thinking of themselves as young rebels too in fact Jefferson I think it's a second youngest person in the Continental Congress but there was a third person who lied about his age to pretend to be younger and actually wasn't but Jefferson was a good war Smith he was from Virginia and it was very important of this person from Franklin from Pennsylvania and Adams from Massachusetts to make sure we got Virginia and because Virginia you know there was a chance it would remain loyal and large wealthy a large wealthy land owning colony and so getting the Virginians in and there were very strong rebels from Virginia it was you know the leaves of Virginia as well as Jefferson were in favor of declaring independence so they decide they want to make sure that Jefferson gets to write the first draft interesting and so this what we see here this is the this is the final text this is the official declaration of an entire future videos we can talk about previous drafts right they went through five drafts to get to this draft and this is the one that they do after unanimously all 13 colonies now call the 13 United States and this document declare this to be the cause of the colonies and what you can see in the first paragraph is they have to explain why are we writing this document and they say well if you're going to have a revolution if you're going to dissolve the political bands which have connected you with another state then the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them a decent respect this is this is the equal station they get because of nature and nature's God it's a pretty interesting phrase let's let's read the whole thing yeah when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands is what you're talking about which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them what they're saying right there is that the laws of nature and the fact that nature's God created us all equally means that one set of people don't have to be subservient to or occupied by or colonies of another set of people they want to be free and independent and it's interesting that they use the phrase laws of nature and Nate God because this is sort of the beginning of the enlightenment well we're supposed to understand that nature gives us our rights and reasons John Locke the great British philosopher believed in the laws of nature and these were deists they kind of were religious a bit but they didn't subscribe to any particular religious dogma and so they just talked about nature's God allowing us all to be free and equal right and a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation that's what they're really just saying what they're saying is we care about the rest of you think and by the way it's directed at one particular people the French because we're not going to win this revolution in the United States unless the French help support us the French by the way were already at war with the British and there's been a long set of Wars throughout the 18th century well France and Britain were fighting each other so this document is particularly aimed at saying to the French you've been fighting Britain for a long time so we have a decent respect for all the opinions of mankind but yours in particular and we're going to tell you why we're fighting this and of course in France at the time this notion of liberty equality fraternity that's bubbling up as well so the document is to try to persuade other nations please support us we're explaining why we're having this revolution and that's I think important to remember for someone in you know 21st century America it's obviously a major world power now the major world power but back then this was a little colony it's kind of a sideshow right right and it's important for us to remember now too that whenever we do something whenever we get involved in the world we should have a decent respect to the opinions of mankind that's how we started as a nation saying when we do something we're going to be open we're going to be honest we're going explain to you why