The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Second Continental Congress, states the reasons the British colonies of North America sought independence in July of 1776.
The declaration opens with a preamble describing the document's necessity in explaining why the colonies have overthrown their ruler and chosen to take their place as a separate nation in the world.
All men are created equal and there are certain unalienable rights that governments should never violate. These rights include the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When a government fails to protect those rights, it is not only the right, but also the duty of the people to overthrow that government. In its place, the people should establish a government that is designed to protect those rights. Governments are rarely overthrown, and should not be overthrown for trivial reasons. In this case, a long history of abuses has led the colonists to overthrow a tyrannical government.
The King of Great Britain, George III, is guilty of 27 specific abuses. The King interfered with the colonists' right to self-government and for a fair judicial system. Acting with Parliament, the King also instituted legislation that affected the colonies without their consent. This legislation levied taxes on the colonists. It also required them to quarter British soldiers, removed their right to trial by jury, and prevented them from trading freely. Additionally, the King and Parliament are guilty of outright destruction of American life and property by their refusal to protect the colonies' borders, their confiscation of American ships at sea, and their intent to hire foreign mercenaries to fight against the colonists.
The colonial governments tried to reach a peaceful reconciliation of these differences with Great Britain, but were continually ignored. Colonists who appealed to British citizens were similarly ignored, despite their shared common heritage and their just cause. After many peaceful attempts, the colonists have no choice but to declare independence from Great Britain.
The new nation will be called the United States of America and will have no further connections with Great Britain. The new government will reserve the right to levy war, make peace, make alliances with foreign nations, conduct trade, and do anything else that nations do.
From the Introduction we move to the Preamble, which is my personal favorite section. The Preamble discusses the philosophical reasons behind the Declaration, many of these reasons being attributed to John Locke, a famous philosopher. These ideas are timeless and apply to the entire world, not just the United States. The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence is probably one of the most important texts ever written, due to the fact that it exemplifies in elegant language inherent rights of people to live, govern themselves, and have liberty.
The Preamble begins by listing a few "self-evident truths," or, in other words, truths that are inherent in people by the sole fact that a person is born. These rights include, but are not limited to, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are not things that governments give you, but rather are things you inherent by simply being alive. Furthermore, no one or entity has the right to deprive you of them.
The document goes on to say that governments are merely instituted to protect these inherent rights; government has no more and no less duties than that. While protecting these rights may require the government to expand beyond an absolute basic structure, the ultimate purpose of government is to protect the rights of each constituent. Beyond that, government has no purpose in everyday life.
In further discussion on the purpose and ideal setup of government, the document states that government has no more ability and power than the people grant it, implying that government is really just an extension of the people, and not a separate entity. The people own the government, not the other way around. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, who was the lead author of the Declaration, said the following: "When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty." In this powerful quote, Jefferson makes the simple point that the people, in a country filled with liberty as the United States, own the government, and are in total control. A disruption in this balance of power pushes a country towards a tyrannical state.
The Declaration also answers the philosophical question of what to do with a destructive government, or one that has either overstepped its bounds or not fulfilling its purpose. The document states that people have a right, not just a privilege, to alter or all-out abolish the government, provided that the reason for doing so is not "light and transient." For such a change or abolition to be warranted, there must exist a "long train of abuses and usurpations." Note that this right to change the government at any time is on par with the rights to liberty, life, and pursuit of happiness. Rights are inherent, and cannot be taken away. Yet this right to overthrow destructive governments was thought so important the Founders stated it to be not only a right, but also a duty, of the people. In other words, the decision of whether or not to overthrow a destructive government is, in the Founders' minds, not even a decision at all. The answer is simple: "throw off such Government, and provide new Guards for their future security."