Some documents in American history have considerable importance for the development of the nation. Students use historical thinking to examine key documents which form the basis for the United States of America.
5. The Declaration of Independence reflects an application of Enlightenment ideas to the grievances of British subjects in the American colonies.
The Declaration of Independence opens with a statement that the action the American colonies were undertaking required an explanation. That explanation begins with a brief exposition of Enlightenment thinking, particularly natural rights and the social contract, as the context for examining the recent history of the colonies.
The document includes a list of grievances the colonists have with the King of Great Britain and Parliament as a justification for independence. The grievances refer to a series of events since the French and Indian War which the colonists deemed were tyrannical acts and destructive of their rights.
The Declaration of Independence ends with a clear statement that the political bonds between the colonies and Great Britain are ended. Independence is declared as an exercise of social contract thought.
Expectations for Learning
Explain a grievance listed in the Declaration of Independence in terms of its relationship to Enlightenment ideas of natural rights and the social contract.