On “The Declaration of Independence”
Thomas Jefferson stands as one of the proponents of the United States’ independence. During 1776, when the United States stood as one of the British colonies, Jefferson’s speech set the primary guidelines for the country’s transition from a colonial state to an independent country. Initially approved by the majority of the members of the Second Continental Congress at the Pennsylvania State House on the second of July 1776, Jefferson’s words in “The Declaration of Independence” on the fourth of July 1776 presented the citizens of the United States along with the citizens of other countries present during the event with a set of guiding ideals that mirrored the country’s adherence to the ideals of Enlightenment philosophy: the necessity for the adherence to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In line with this, what follows is an analysis of Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence”. The document presents the argument for the United States’ necessity to stand as an independent country from the British Empire. The basic assumption of the argument is as follows: The United States’ declaration of independence from the British colonies stands as an action derived from intuitive truths regarding man’s necessity to uphold his ‘inalienable rights’ against a ‘destructive’ government. In order to hold these ‘inalienable rights’, it is necessary for a people to create a government that will ensure the protection and implementation of these rights (Jefferson, 1776, p.175). In relation to the effectiveness of the document, it is important to note that the title of the document itself assumes a certain form of legality however it is important to note that the document did not serve an instrumental purpose [in the sense that the utterance of the content of the document enabled the independence of the United States]. Given that the United States’ independence has already been decided two days prior to Jefferson’s speech, the speech may be said to serve a pragmatic purpose [in the sense that the utterance of the content of the document enabled the advertisement of the United States’ independence not only to its citizens but to other countries as well]. Given that the purpose of utterance of “The Declaration of Independence” was based on pragmatic reasons as opposed to instrumental reasons it is possible to posit that the effectiveness of the document is not only dependent upon its content but also upon the manner in which it was uttered. If such is the case, an analysis of the effectiveness of the document necessitates an analysis of its tone and logical construction [e.g. whether the content of the document was privy to any form of fallacious reasoning such as an appeal to authority] as well as the ethos, pathos, and logos of the document’s content and the manner in which it was uttered.
The tone of “The Declaration of Independence” demanded the implementation of man’s intuitive ‘inalienable rights’. The construction of the speech in such a way that the recognition and implementation of man’s inalienable rights must necessarily be applied to the American people implicitly enables the following reactions: (1) It enables the formation of the assumption that such a right is withheld from the citizens of the United States by the British government and (2) It enables the formation of the assumption that act of declaring independence [which is the act of recognizing and implementing these rights for the citizens of the United States] is a just and hence noteworthy action.
In the same manner that the tone used in the aforementioned speech added to the effectiveness of the speech, the effectiveness of the logical construction of the argument is apparent in the use of the appeal to the authority of the text in “The Declaration of Independence. The construction of the argument in the speech was done so in such a way that the authority of its content was made to be dependent upon the authority of the texts’ content. In other words, no appeal was made to any authority figure or symbol outside the text itself. Within the whole speech, the authority of the text was dependent upon the conditions it lays down for the necessity for independence [e.g. it is based on self-evident Truths, it is based on nature’s law, it is based on ‘Nature’s God]. In other words, the authority of the texts’ content was based upon the importance it gives on the necessity to recognize the liberty of an individual or a set of individuals.
In line with this, the ethos of the text which was defined by the liberal character of the declaration’s content also proved to be effective. The effectiveness of the texts’ ethos is based on the following: (1) By adhering to a liberal character, the text enabled a unity [coherence] in the philosophical view that the text adapts along with the content of the text itself and (2) By adhering to a liberal character, the text was able to further the pragmatic function of the declaration as it set the initial guidelines for the development of a culture that practiced liberalism through its practice and acceptance of pluralism.
The pathos of the declaration also proved to be effective for the pragmatic purpose of the text for both positive and negative reasons. It is important to note that the emotional appeal of the text was also dependent upon the tone that Jefferson adapted since by constructing the content of the text in the form of a demand, the text was able to appeal to the emotions of the audience [and even the later readers of the text] as it forwarded the assumptions mentioned above in the discussion of the effectiveness of the tone used in the text. Consider for example that by implicitly stating that these intuitive ‘inalienable rights’ are being withheld from the citizens of the United States, it is possible to illicit an emotion of pride in the county’s ability to affirm these rights in relation to the British Empire. In addition to this, in line with the other pragmatic purpose of the text [which involves the advertisement of the country’s independence to other countries], the text may illicit admiration from other countries. It is important to note that despite the effectiveness of the text’s pathos, there were certain instances where in pathos was used in a fallacious manner. This involves instances where in the King of Britain was specified in a highly derogatory manner within the text.
Amongst all these factors, the logos of the declaration stand as the most important aspect which enabled the effectiveness of “The Declaration of Independence”. The text appeals to reason as it places emphasis on the laws of nature which necessitates the recognition and affirmation of man’s inalienable rights. The text not only states that the bases for the independence of the country is based on “self-evident Truths” but it also states that these are based on natural laws and hence are dependent upon “Nature’s God” (Jefferson, 1776, p.175).
Based upon the aforementioned factors, it is possible to state that “The Declaration of Independence” effectively met its purpose. The pragmatic purpose of “The Declaration of Independence” was met since the logical construction of the text along with the ethos, pathos, logos, and tone used in the text enabled the coherence of the text’s content. In addition to this, it enabled the public affirmation of the United States’ independence in such a way that it set the ideals for the country’s current liberal setting.
Jefferson, T. (1776). The Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence: Origins, Philosophy, and Theology. Ed. A. Jayne. Kentucky: U.P. of Kentucky.
On “The Declaration of Independence”