The Declaration of Independence
Growth of New Ideas in Government
We take it for granted today, but the United States was the first country formed with a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."
Explain what you think Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, meant by the words, "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
The Declaration of Independence introduced many of these ideas for the first time. The words "liberty" and "inalienable rights" represent key ideals of Americans today, but were born of a document written by Thomas Jefferson. Some of the ideas described in the Declaration were not new — the Ancient Romans even practiced some of them. Yet, no one had ever tried to form a nation on these beliefs before.
The principles beneath the words in the Declaration are sometimes very difficult to describe. Exactly what do these words mean?
To get a better understanding of these principles, we need to know about the popular thinkers and philosophers of the time. Our Founding Fathers were very "well read." Most could read and many even spoke several languages. During this era, people respected and studied the thoughts of great writers from ancient Greece and Rome. They used these ideas and the ideas of newer thinkers and philosophers to conceive a new type of government.
In this section, you can learn more about the great thinkers that influenced the Founding Fathers. One writer, John Locke, believed that when a government failed, its citizens had the right and the obligation to remove the people in charge. Another, Rousseau, said that we are all born free and with natural rights and that the government should preserve our individual freedom. Still another, Voltaire, had concerns about public corruption. Thomas Paine was an American who felt it was only Common Sense that we be an independent nation.
Read through the following sections to see how these thoughts and many others helped the Founding Fathers to come up with our Declaration of Independence.