The Declaration of Independence Source: http://www.founding.com/the_declaration_of_i/

The Declaration of Independence
Source: http://www.founding.com/the_declaration_of_i/

Callie Folke

           Most people have pride in their country. It’s natural to feel some sense of alliance with your countrymen, despite the fact that nobody has ever met every single person in their country. This is due to the fact that everyone living in that country have one thing in common: they all live under the same government. Specifically, in the United States, we all live under the rules stated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Notice how I did not mention the Declaration of Independence. This is because although that document is extremely important, it does not have any legal power. The problem is that a lot of people will often romanticize the Declaration and the men who wrote it and take everything it says as a law.  This is not particularly a good thing to do because when you romanticize history, you tend to ignore the bad parts.

The biggest example of romanticism in history is the fact that most Americans look at Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and especially Thomas Jefferson as saints. They most certainly were not. All three of them owned slaves at some point in their lives, even Franklin. While this does not discredit what they did for the founding of the United States, it does put a serious damper on the whole “worship them like gods” mentality that a lot of people have. This state of mind developed shortly after the Revolutionary War. “Jefferson became a Christlike figure whose ‘disembodied spirit was…upborne by the blessings of ten millions of Freemen’ in a fanciful Fourth of July ascension (Maier 190).” They are being equated with Jesus and it just doesn’t work. They didn’t die for anyone’s sins. They’re not (arguably) the sons of god. They’re just a group of men who wanted to make a new nation. “ Not enough people realize that, and I personally hate the glorification of them.

The Declaration of Independence also gets romanticized frequently. It is seen as the absolute declaration of human rights. To me, it is just a well-written paper that makes a good quick read. I do feel of sense of patriotism when I read it because it is the document that turned Great Britain on its head, but we didn’t really have a government back then, and even when our current government was adopted, the congress never put any aspects of the Declaration into the Constitution. To boil the Declaration down to its simplest form, it is merely a list of crimes that King George had committed. In fact, the Declaration is incredibly hypocritical when it comes to women and children, and people who know about history know that “The Declaration of Independence was, in fact, a peculiar document to be cited by those who championed the cause of equality (Maier 192).” This is especially true when you consider the deleted paragraph about slavery. In this paragraph, Jefferson accuses the king of waging “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither (Jefferson).” While it is true that the king allowed the purchase of slaves, Jefferson and the rest of the southern gentry were practitioners of this heinous crime against humanity. Had the congress included this passage, there would have been more pressure for slavery to be abolished, and if they didn’t abolish it, they would have been hypocrites in a different way. There really was no way for them to win because they were all raised in a culture of slavery. It’s all they’ve ever known and it is really hard to break away from something that you’ve grown up with, even if you realize that it’s wrong. The fact that they left this critical problem for someone else to solve proves that the Declaration does have flaws and so do the men who helped write it.

Despite the fact that the Declaration is hypocritical, it still has many values written in it that people today can learn from. “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 (Jefferson).” This is a very famous line, but it is almost never applied. I believe that this is a line that should be paid more attention to, especially as it becomes more and more relevant to our society. As the government becomes more corrupt, we as the people should ensure that they do not allow things to go as far as they did in the Revolution. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants (Jefferson).” This was not in the Declaration, but it is a quote of his and I believe that this is the direction our country is heading in. So the Declaration is still relevant and we as a country can learn from it, but it does not have any legal weight.

To conclude, the Declaration should not be romanticized, nor should any of the people who were involved in the war. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from it or take its words to heart. We should learn from it, and we should read it a lot. It serves as a reminder for who we are as a people and where this country came from, both the good and the bad. That’s something I believe more people should know. It’s why I study history; so I can learn from the past and ensure that I don’t make the mistakes our ancestors made.

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