<Standard 5.15.....................................................................................................................................Standard 5.17>

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.

external image Drafting_of_the_Declaration_of_Independence.jpg

Topics on the Page

Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson
John Locke
Natural Rights
The Rule of Law
Jefferson's Views on Women

Focus Question: What are the key ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence?

For more on the Declaration of Independence, link to

United States History I.3

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 and Thomas Jefferson

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.

primary_sources.PNGCommon Sense by Thomas Paine.

primary_sources.PNGThe 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 by Laurent Dabos oil on canvas, circa 1791
Thomas Paine by Laurent Dabos oil on canvas, circa 1791

Multimedia.pngThomas Paine Video Lesson Plan from CSpan's American Writers.

Quill_and_ink.pngClick here for brief biography of Thomas Paine from PBS.

Multimedia.pngTo View A Short Video on The Declaration of Independence: America the Story of Us: Declaration of Independence

primary_sources.PNGClick here for pictures of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from Wikimedia Commons.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngClick here for a simplified English edition of the Declaration of Independence, one that would be easier for young students to understand.

John Locke--A philosopher that had a tremendous influence on both Thomas Jefferson, his writings, and a number of revolutionary figures is John Locke.

Reverse of 2007 Wyoming quarter
Reverse of 2007 Wyoming quarter

Equality- When the Declaration of Independence was written, equality had a different meaning then it does now. At this time, equality was for all men, specifically those who were white. “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 Equality as expressed in the Declaration of Independence

Natural Rights- 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.
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Multimedia.pngBelow are some short videos produced by the History Channel, concerning Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration.

Liberty's Kids 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 video 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.

external image Red_apple.jpgFor discussion questions for students, see The Declaration and Natural Rights from the organization Land and Freedom.org

Female_Rose.pngFor 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" here; it is valuable to compare both declarations to see what they have in common, and what separates them.

multicultural.pngIn an earlier draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included a passage that attacked slavery. Click here to read the text of the deleted passage.

Image IDs from left to right
1. Declaration of Independence Youtube from user Vosbikian, "Declaration of Independence".