A Closer Look at the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence

Our Literary Outdoors…
literature of the Sportsman’s Guide lifestyle.

Soon I will take my summer vacation to my beloved hometown of Philadelphia. Sure I love seeing mom and sis, having some Yuenglings (best beer in America), and eating a few cheesesteaks. But I always take some time to tour the historical area and snap a few pics around Independence Hall. It gives me pause to think of the events that took place there leading up to July 4th, 1776. And while the significance of the Declaration of Independence can not be overstated, to me the real power of the document is in the Preamble.

The Preamble is the beginning of the Declaration…pretty much the introduction to the purpose of the Declaration itself. And, honestly, the bulk of the Declaration is a laundry list of offenses committed by England, and its King, George III. Still, I believe the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest pieces of persuasive literature around. The rhetoric–the art in how it achieves its goal to persuade the reader–is masterful.  Take a look:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,

Right off the bat, the purpose of why this document has been prepared is established. But by saying it happens in “human events”, it does this by talking more in general…that anyone may encounter such a situation. In a way, the colonies’ efforts are made more credible by saying what is happening to them is something that can also happen to others.

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. 

This is like saying, “the polite thing to do is express WHY you are doing this”…and since the Founding Fathers are the ones initiating this gesture, the inference is that THEY are, essentially, “decent.”

Independence Hall, where our Founding Fathers met to sign the Declaration.
Independence Hall, where our Founding Fathers created the Declaration.

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; 

WE, as in everyone. ALL men, including the colonies. There is also a nod to a higher power, that they are bestowed with rights. So the issue becomes almost a spiritual/religious one.

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; 

So governments have a purpose, a function. And they are essentially established as an agreement amongst the people. A democracy. But the irony is a democracy was not how the King (overseeing the colonies) was elected. He was not voted to power from the consent of those governed: the colonies.

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. 

ANY form…and in this case certainly inferring England. And therefore the result is the people have a RIGHT to change or get rid of the government. To rebel is a right! Like, revolting is a civic responsibility. Those are dangerous words!

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;

However, there is a bit of a caveat here. People should not just break off with governments for small, trivial, or even “silly” circumstances, especially if the government has been around for a long time. Would you break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend just because he/she ate the last cookie?

and accordingly all experience hath shown 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, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

To continue the previous thought, yes, man suffers.  Life under the government will not always be rosy. “BUT”…when mistreatment happens continually, and repeatedly, it is reiterated that mankind has a right to get rid of the old government and replace it with a better one that is more suited to meet the needs of the people.

With the Hall in the background, the memorial to the Father of the American Navy, Commodore John Barry.
With the Hall in the background, the memorial to the Father of the American Navy, Commodore John Barry.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government.

Here again is the back-and-forth that the document does in establishing a framework for all mankind, then relating it to the colonies in particular. The document becomes more specific, no longer talking about what mankind should do but now making the connection that these rules apply to the colonies and change must happen.

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.

To finish off, the document now gets most direct. Instead of talking about what mankind should do in certain situations, the foundation has been set to say all that was previously mentioned has happened…that the King has performed against the best interests of the colonies. And from here, the list of misdeeds will not just be stated for the world to see, but PROVEN. Therefore, the purpose of the Declaration is established and justified…and the reasons will now be clearly listed.

On Thomas Jefferson’s grave, he lists three contributions he wished to be remembered by.  “Author of the Declaration of American Independence” is the first.  With the power contained in this short Preamble to the significance of the Declaration to it ultimately leading to our independence, It alone is indeed a worthy legacy.

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4 Responses to “A Closer Look at the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence”

  1. James Perovich Senior

    A very good American History lesson here

    Reply
  2. nancy e. t. rickett

    more people need to read all the history our fore-fathers wrote and passed into law.thank you for the reminder and it is a shame it is not taught in schools every where anymore.nancy e.t. rickett cedar bluff,al.

    Reply
    • James

      James

      Thank you, Nancy. There is a lot to learn from the Revolutionary period in regards to government policies and persuasive techniques. Today’s students can definitely benefit from that knowledge.

      Reply