The Declaration of Independence
- What were Jefferson’s objectives in penning the first sentence of the Declaration, referred to as “the Introduction?]”
- What are the separate ideas that Jefferson raises in the opening sentence of the Declaration of Independence and what is he trying to get across in each of them?
- What are some of the sources for the language and ideas found in the Introduction?
"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 introduction is written in beautiful language, and is one long declarative sentence.
Jefferson talks about the United States in terms of how it relates to other societies throughout history. He states that the time has come for the colonies to declare independence. Also, he writes about the importance of explaining this change to the world.
Jefferson's skillful use of language made the writing of the Declaration more than a fight between England and the colonies. Because of his words, it became a major event in world history. The idea of a form of government where the people choose how they will be governed was new and revolutionary. With this document, the colonists were forming an entirely new form of government.
In the Declaration there are three references to God, and each one is different. In one reference, Jefferson uses the term "Nature's God." Later, he uses "Creator" and lastly "Divine Providence." Many scholars have debated on how to interpret his use of these terms. Some disagree about how church and state were viewed during the founding of our nation. One fact is for sure — the authors of the Declaration were very aware of different religious beliefs, including those of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, and American Indian belief systems.
Notice the words that Jefferson used in the opening. He wrote, "It becomes necessary." By using these words, Jefferson was saying that there was only one way to proceed — through war. The phrase "necessity to take arms" was familiar to the English from their own Civil War. After they read the Declaration, there would be no doubt that the colonists were ready to fight for their freedom.