Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When in the Course of Human Events . . .

Thomas Jefferson opened his Declaration of Independence with a paragraph explaining its purpose:

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

Jefferson asserts that events have made it “necessary” to sever our political ties with Britain. This statement almost carries the ring of determinism. Events have forced Americans into this action. They can envision no other way to preserve their natural liberties than to assume “the separate and equal station” of an independent country. The Law of Nature and Nature's God to which Jefferson appeals that entitles the Americans to take this step is simply another name for justice.

Jefferson asserts that a decent respect for the opinions or judgments of mankind requires that we state the causes that have forced or , his words, impelled, the decision for independence. He probably had three audiences in mind. First, the Declaration addressed other Americans. At the Continental Congress, nearly a month passed before a delegates reached a consensus on declaring independence. Moreover, John Adams believed that only about one-third of Americans fully supported the Revolution. The remaining holdouts were undecided or loyalists to the British crown. Second, the Declaration addressed the British public. Many British citizens wondered why subjects to the freest government in the world rebelled against it. Finally, the Declaration addressed foreign leaders. The Americans needed financial and material support from foreign countries in order to win independence. No foreign power cared during the years that the colonists asserted their ancient rights as British citizens. Once America made it clear to seek independence, other powers found it in their interest to encourage the break up the British Empire.

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