Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 1. Segment 8
The Declaration of Independence

If the delegates were going to take this big risk, they wanted to make it worthwhile. And it would be worthwhile if they could help create a free nation, a great nation, a republic run by its citizens—something that had never before been done. So they thought it important to explain exactly why it was necessary to be free of English rule. That's why they asked Virginia's Thomas Jefferson See It Now - Thomas Jefferson chosen to write the Declaration of Independence to write a declaration. Adams later remembered: "Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I said, 'I will not. You can write ten times better than I can' Check The Source - John Adams Account."

And so it was the shy young Thomas Jefferson who would compose the central document of American freedom. Sitting at a portable writing desk he himself had designed, Jefferson worked on the second floor of a brick house in Philadelphia and wrote and rewrote until he had it the way he wanted it, and then the delegates made a few changes and it was done See It Now - Rough Draft. Adams was right. Thomas Jefferson knew just what to say, and he said it in a way that inspired people all over the world. Listen again to the Declaration's central words: Hear It Now - Declaration of Independence "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."

It was an idea so daring that nothing like it had been heard of in governments before. Governments are not made to make kings and rulers happy. They are for the benefit of the people who are being governed. Jefferson later explained: "This was the object of the [Declaration of Independence] ... to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we were compelled to take. It was intended to be an expression of the American mind."

The words of the Declaration are worth memorizing, and especially the phrase "all men are created equal See It Now - The Declaration of Independence." But what exactly do these words mean—that we are all the same? Look around you. Of course we aren't. Some of us are smarter, some are better athletes, some are better looking, some are nicer. But none of that matters, said Thomas Jefferson. We are all equal in the eyes of God, and we are all entitled to equal rights. Jefferson knew that the Declaration was even bigger than America. "May it be to the world what I believe it will be ... the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... [of] superstition ... and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."

When Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal," he didn't mention women. But did he mean to include women See It Now - Woman patriot? No one knows; perhaps not. We do know that in the eighteenth century the words "men" and "mankind" included men and women. Did he mean to include black men when he said "all men" See It Now - "Negroes to be sold"? Historians argue about that. Jefferson was a complicated man—he thought slavery was wrong, yet he owned slaves Check The Source - Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on slavery in America Check The Source - Advice to Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Banneker. But this is the important part: Thomas Jefferson's great Declaration of Independence has grown even greater with the passing of time. Today, when people all over the world read his words, they understand them to mean all people—men, women, and children—of all colors and beliefs Check The Source - Reconstruction of Thomas Jefferson's "original Rough draught" Check The Source - The Final Draft.

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