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Explain the meaning of the key ideas on equality, natural rights, the rule of law, and the purpose of government contained in the Declaration of Independence.
Focus Question: What are the key ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence?
For more on the Declaration of Independence, see
AP United States History 4
Image to the right shows the Drafting of the Declaration of Independence. The Commitee: Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Livingston, and Sherman. 1776. Copy of engraving after Alonzo Chappel
Thomas Paine by Laurent Dabos oil on canvas, circa 1791
Click here for discussion questions for teachers and students related to
Thomas Paine's Common Sense and Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence
, both were written in 1776, from a seminar on the American Revolution and the New Nation from the University of Glasgow.
by Thomas Paine.
The Rights of Man
was written by Thomas Paine in 1791. It has been interpreted as a work defending the French Revolution, but it is also a seminal work embodying the ideas of liberty and human equality.
Thomas Paine Video Lesson Plan
Click here for
brief biography of Thomas Paine
To View A Short Video on The Declaration of Independence:
America the Story of Us: Declaration of Independence
Click here for
pictures of the signers
of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from Wikimedia Commons.
Click here for a
simplified English edition
of the Declaration of Independence, one that would be easier for young students to understand.
--A philosopher that had a tremendous influence on both Thomas Jefferson, his writings, and a number of revolutionary figures is John Locke.
You can follow the
to learn more about John Locke and the effect he had on American history.
World History I.34 on Enlightenment philosophers
including Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire and others
Reverse of 2007 Wyoming quarter
When the Declaration of Independence was written, equality had a different meaning then it does now. At this time, equality was for all
, specifically those who were
. “All men are created equal” and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Great source for understanding and teaching the idea of
as expressed in the Declaration of Independence
- Natural rights were defined in the Declaration as "inalienable rights" that were bestowed upon us by the "creator." These rights are something that every free man are born with and can not be taken away by the government.
"To secure these rights, governments are in instituted started among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Jefferson's idea of Natural Rights builds upon ideas put forth during the period of enlightenment, in particular John Locke's belief that individuals are born with certain "inalienable" natural rights that are God given.
The Rule of Law-
Mad with foreign rule, the colonists made sure to include that it is the not only the right but the responsibility of the people to change or take down their government if it is not protecting the rights of the people.
"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. However, governments long established should not be changed for light and transient temporary causes."
The Declaration concludes that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.
Below are some short videos produced by the History Channel, concerning Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration.
Jefferson Challenges the King
Jefferson Write the Declaration of Independence
Declaration of Independence
is a children's animated cartoon that showcases key moments in the American Revolution. All episodes can be found on YouTube. However, you can click on this
to watch the episode about Jefferson's writing of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to the show, the website is a great, simplified resource to American Revolution people, events, documents, and objects.
For discussion questions for students, see
The Declaration and Natural Rights
from the organization Land and Freedom.org
For an brief look into
Thomas Jefferson's Views on Women
Declaration of Independence served as the model for suffragist "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions" that claimed women should be given civil and political rights equal to men.
You can find the text of the "Declaration of Sentiments"
; it is valuable to compare both declarations to see what they have in common, and what separates them.
Declaration of Sentiments (Short Version with Text Supports)
In an earlier draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included a passage that attacked slavery. Click
to read the text of the deleted passage.
Image IDs from left to right
Declaration of Independence
Youtube from user Vosbikian, "Declaration of Independence".
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