history book

The Declaration of Independence

Lesson Plan

Reading the Declaration


The Declaration of Independence has been read and talked about more than any other American document. There are many books, essays, and treatises written about it. And yet, there are many different opinions about what the ideas in it really mean. Even today all new American citizens study the meaning of this important document. It helps to give a look into what it means to be American.

So, what is the best way to examine the Declaration? There are a number of different views.

It could be interpreted as an expression of John Locke’s ideas. Locke was a big influence on the writers of the Declaration.

It also could be seen as a new and original statement about government.

Some believe the declaration is all about individualism. Others see it as promoting civic engagement and participation in groups.

Historians see the Declaration as a way to define who an American is. Judges and lawyers use the document in the political process when creating and interpreting laws.

The Declaration is a beautifully written document that officially announced that the United States were no longer part of Great Britain. That these United States were establishing a new idea of government; one whose leadership did not govern by divine right, but was chosen by the people for the people themselves. This new government's job was to protect the "Rights” of its citizens.

In the sections that follow, you will get the chance to try to decide on your own point of view. To do this, we are going to ask you to do carefully read the Declaration.

In order to assist your exploration, we have explored each of the five parts of the Declaration separately:

  • The introduction — in which Jefferson gives a short statement as to why the Document needed to be written.
  • The Preamble — which describes the ideas, philosophies, and beliefs on which the new American government would be founded
  • Indictment against King George III — where the specific issues the colonists have with the king are listed
  • Denunciation of the British People — where attention is turned to the colonists issues with the British People
  • Conclusion — where the critical points are tied together and a clear statement of the colonists intentions are put forward


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©1995- by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, PA founded in 1942.
Publishing electronically as ushistory.org.; online since July 4, 1995.

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Declaration of Independence