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Explain the influence and ideas of the Declaration of Independence and the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson.

external image Declaration_independence.jpg
The image to the right is John Trumball's Painting of a Drafting Committee Presenting the Declaration of Independence to Congress. This image is found on the back of the two dollar bill.

Focus Question: What ideas and events influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson's political philosophy?

external image EnneperSurfaceAnimated.gifSee also USI.2 and USG.1.9 as well as Grade 5.16

"The Declaration of Independence does not have the force of law; the Constitution establishes the shape of government, and the limits and boundaries of the freedom it protects. The Constitution does not specifically recognize equality in the way the Declaration does, except perhaps in the Reconstruction Amendments. . . The Declaration remains the outstanding example of the spirit, as opposed to the letter, of U.S. law."
  • Quoted in The Declaration: A Primary Sourcebook, Teaching American History Professional Development Project, Fall River Public Schools and Bristol Community College, p. 1

primary_sources.PNGText of the Declaration of Independence

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 3.33.37 PM.pngClick on Ages of Revolution: How Old Were They on July 4, 1776? to find out the ages of the key participants in the American Revolution on July 4,1776. More than one dozen of the signers of the Declaration were under 35 years old.

Malden, Massachusetts Declaration of Independence (May 27, 1776)

Vermont Declaration of Independence (1777)

lesson_plan_icon.jpg The Declaration of Independence: "An Expression of the American Mind" --a We The People Lesson Plan


William Penn at age 22 (1666)
William Penn at age 22 (1666)

primary_sources.PNGText of William Penn's Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors, Freeholders, and Inhabitants of the Province of West New Jersey, 1677.

This document established a representative democracy with freedom of religion, assembly and trial by jury 100 years before the Declaration of Independence.

See also the Founding of the Quaker Colony of West Jersey

History's Declaration of Independence Interactive!

5 Obscure Facts About the Declaration of Independence

Join the signers of the Declaration of Independence

Key Ideas in the Declaration of Independence:

  • Stated that men have "inalienable rights" that the founding fathers felt had been violated by Great Britain
  • Believed that everyone "endowed by their Creator" had the right for "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
  • Stated that the people have a right to cut ties with a government that they feel is unjust
  • Stated that the colonists had endured sufficient amounts of intolerable acts that deemed their separation from its mother country justifiable
  • Listed the acts and laws that Great Britain had passed that many colonists disagreed with
  • Stated that the British should not be surprised by the colonies' announcement because they had been warned numerous times that their acts were intolerable

John Locke and influences on the Declaration of Independence

Locke's Political Philosophy
  • john-locke.jpgSome argue that the declaration was in some ways inspired by several great thinkers who had considered republicanism before the creation of the Declaration
  • One of these thinkers was John Locke, who believed in "social contract" or the right the people have to govern in order to maintain social order - includes giving up what he believed to be excessive rights
  • Locke wrote that the people could dismiss a government that did not provide support for their natural and social rights: life, liberty, and property - property was a right derived from labor
  • His ideas were strongly influential on the Declaration; Jefferson slightly edited Locke's natural rights theory to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because many colonists did not own property

Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson
  • Believed in limited powers on the federal level
  • Wanted to ensure that small, local governments were capable of keeping the federal government accountable
  • His political philosophies on restraining the federal government were greatly rooted in the fears that many colonists had following their experiences with Great Britain's controlling governing strategies. Many colonists, and even early Americans, remained fearful that the United States would become a monarchical society mirroring England's
  • Believed that all men should be educated and politically informed
  • Imagined a smaller groups of educated elites ruling their local governments

Multimedia.pngThomas Jefferson and His Democracy: Crash Course U.S. History

rotating gif.gifFor more on Thomas Jefferson, see

multicultural.pngSlavery on Jefferson's Monticello Plantation

JohnAdamsHBO.jpgIf teachers would like to supplement their lessons on the Second Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence, the HBO miniseries John Adams contextualizes the period quite well (even if some of the scenes are somewhat historically inaccurate). In any event, the Declaration of Independence resolution and subsequent proclamation scene showcased its importance in changing the mission of the Revolution.

john and abigail.png

Texas Declaration of Independence (1836)

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 4.03.33 PM.pngText of the Texas Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Sentiments (1848)

elizabeth cady stanton.png
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Female_Rose.pngThe Declaration of Independence was used as a model by Elizabeth Cady Stanton to forthrightly demand that the rights of women as right-bearing individuals be acknowledged and respected by society in the Declaration of Sentiments.

United Steelworkers Declaration of Independence (1936_

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 4.03.33 PM.pngWe Are Americans! The Homestead Workers Issue a Declaration of Independence by 1936

The Declaration of Independence in Global Perspective
  • More than half of the countries now represented at the United Nations have a founding document that can be called a declaration of independence

Works Cited:
Declaration of Independence. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from The National Archives Experience Web site: http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration.html
John Locke. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Web site: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke/
Thomas Jefferson. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from The White House Web site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/tj3.html
John Adams. Retreived February 19, 2010 from Youtube website:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrvpZxMfKaU