The Declaration is a combination of general principles and an abstract theory of government. The fundamental American ideal of government is based on the theory of natural rights. The opening paragraphs of the document outline the natural rights afforded to all people, calling them self-evident truths, and using them to form the basis of a governmental system. The second portion of the document describes how King George III had disregarded those natural rights to establish a tyranny over the colonies, and sets up a justification for American independence. As you read the Declaration of Independence, see how the first part gives notice of the break with England and the reasons for the break. The last part is the list of grievances or complaints against King George III.

One of the most famous phrases in the Declaration is the second sentence: “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, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Writing and signing the Declaration of Independence took courage, since the signers would be acting against authority and could be accused of treason, but the drafting of the document was an important step in the founding of our Government.

The Declaration of Independence was first written by Thomas Jefferson. When Jefferson had finished his draft, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Jefferson met to make changes. This version was sent to the Second Continental Congress on July 2, and after two days of debate and revisions, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. On July 19, the Second Continental Congress ordered that an official copy of the document be made.