Main Ideas that Shaped Declaration of Independence

Unlike other founding documents, the Declaration of Independence is not legally binding. However, it stands out as a powerful document since it was the first formal statement by the United States people asserting their right to choose their own government. As McClellan (1989) puts it, the Declaration of Independence is one of the most famous documents in the history of the world, whereby over the years, it has exerted a powerful influence on humanity. It is worth noting that the Declaration of Independence was shaped by the philosophy of government, including natural rights, natural law, contract theory, religious liberty, and limited government. This paper explores the specific ideas that shaped the Declaration of Independence. 

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The main ideas that shaped the Declaration of Independence are philosophical. The first part of the document offered a philosophical justification for secession. The justification was based on the belief that all men are entitled to certain fundamental rights, and the primary purpose of a government should be to protect the said rights. These alienable rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This stems from the belief that all persons are created equal, supported by Genesis 1:27, which states “so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Moreover, citizens have the right to abolish a government if it fails to fulfill its obligations. Jefferson asserted that Americans hold the said truths to be self-evident. Notably, this ideology is informed by the social contract theory. The document emphasized that governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the governed consent (McClellan, 1989). Social contract theory posits that people live together in a society under an agreement that establishes their political and moral behavior (Muldoon, 2016). The form of government-citizens relationship described by the Declaration of Independence match up to the theory.

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Natural rights and natural law also shape the central understanding of rights as posited by the Declaration of Independence. The ideology of natural law stems from the belief that there is a higher power governing humankind and political rulers’ affairs. Natural law entails the principles inherent to humankind’s nature as moral, rational, and social being. These principles cannot be causally ignored as they govern the political and legal affairs of humankind. The natural law shaped the Declaration of Independence as it informs the natural rights philosophy that undergirded the document. As Locke argued, the true natural state of humankind is not civil society but rather the state of nature. According to Locke, natural rights include life, liberty, and estate (McClellan, 1989). It is worth noting that these natural rights are mostly similar to the unalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, natural law and natural rights significantly shaped the document.

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It is worth noting that some political ideas integral to today’s America are not found in the Declaration of Independence. The document did not address issues such as the need for a limited government. Although the document asserted that people should have the power to abolish a government if it failed to meet its obligations, the Declaration of Rights did not address the issue of restricting government power. Other political ideas not present in the document include the individual rights and liberties that were later incorporated in the Bill of Rights. As such, concepts such as religious liberty are not addressed by the document. Nonetheless, what the Declaration of Independence failed to address should not overshadow its importance to the US and the world.

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