Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

Author: Jason Symes

Analyze the political values embodied in  the Declaration of Independence

In this tutorial you will be guided through the purpose of the Declaration of Independence.  Our objective will be to understand the values that our Founding Fathers held, that they felt justified their call for a formal independence from Great Britain.

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Your Objectives

By the conclusion of this tutorial you should be able to:

  1. clearly explain the key segments of the Declaration of Independence in your own words.
  2. familiarize and be able to use much of the vocabulary within the Declaration of Independence..
  3. state your opinion about whether or not the colonists had good reasons to declare their independence.
  4. connect the principles of the Declaration of Independence to the world around us today.

Your Methods

All work should be done in your notebook (paper or electronic) and categorized by section of the Declaration of Independence.  Students should take care to know and be comfortable with the vocabulary words that are found throughout the Declaration of Independence excerpts in this tutorial.  Vocabulary words are underlined in each section.  Vocabulary words and definitions for understanding should be placed throughout your notes as they come up or in their own vocabulary section of your notes.


The notes from this work will be monitored throughout this unit.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Signing of the Declaration of Independence


















John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicts the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill. The original painting hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.


TIP:  Click on the image above to view a larger image



  • Record 10 items that you notice about the scene.  You can include details about the people portrayed by the artist, their postures, facial expressions, actions etc...  You may also want to explore the room itself that the event took place in.  


  • What do you already know about this element of History?


Source: John Trumbull [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Declaration of Independence Reading

Reading of the Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independece - Opening Paragraph

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.



The above segment is the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.  At this point in the document the authors are communicating with their reader the reasons for creating this document.  This paragraph is the equivalent of the thesis you may find at the beginning of one of your essays.  There are three reasons within that they give for writing this document. 




Based on what you see above:

  1. What are 5 key words you can identify in the first paragraph?
  2. What is one reason for why our Founding Fathers wrote this document?
  3. What would you guess is meant by "Laws of Nature"?
  4. Look up "Laws of Nature".  Was your guess in the same ballpark as the definition?  How so?


Source: "Declaration of Independence." Declaration of Independence. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Declaration of Independence - 2nd Paragraph

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable (can't be taken away) Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving (getting/obtaining) their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That 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, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism (Tyrannical, abusive of power), it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


Answer the following questions in your notebook

  1. What are the rights that all men have?  Can you think of an example of when a person's rights might interfere with the rights of another individual?
  2. Where do the rights of men come from?  Who can take them away from you?
  3. What is the role of government?
  4. Where does government get its power from?
  5. What happens when government stops doing its job?
  6. Under what circumstances do the people have the right to alter/abolish the government?


  • Above and Beyond Opportunity
  • Of the principles expressed above, where can we find examples of some of these in our world today?


Transition? This helps your reader know that a new point is going to be made.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Source: "Declaration of Independence - Transcript." Declaration of Independence - Text Transcript. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Grievances - aka Complaints

The third section of the Declaration of Independence is a long list of complaints.  To see them, click HERE.  

A lot of these complaints are in a language that is not easily accesible to us, to get them in a Plain English version you may click HERE.


Take the Grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence or the Plain English version and sort them into three categories.  The three categories are

  1. Economic Matters
  2. Restrictions on Colonial Rule
  3. Violation of Individual Rights
  • Create a three column page in your notebook and label each column with the above categories.  Use this page to sort the grievances in your notebook.
  • ***Please don't sort them by number, just give a quick summary of the topic.  Those numbers won't mean anything to you when you are studying for a quiz down the road***

Which category seems to be violated the most?  The least?  Does this say anything about the colonist's issues with the king?


The Declaration of Independence - The Final Section

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude (appropriateness) of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved (forgiven/removed)from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence (God's will), we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


Letter from the People of Malden, MA to their representative

Its the last document in the link HERE!




  • What is the current and future status of the country once the Declaration of Independence is signed?
  • What are some examples of some of the new powers that this new country will take on?  Why do you think they chose those specific tasks when creating this document?
  • Compare the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence to the final two paragraphs of the letter from the people of Malden, MA.  Which letter is stronger in supporting the cause of independence?  Why do you think that is?