The Declaration of Independence is the Founding Document of the United States of America.
It can, however, be fairly difficult to interpret. This is due partially to the way people wrote/spoke in the 18th century.
It can also be attributed to Thomas Jefferson’s grandiose language.
TJ had a flair for making words sound fancy. While that is a significant reason this document is so beautiful, it can also attribute to why it is hard to understand.
Below I will be translating the Declaration.
To do this, I will go section by section offering my modern-day interpretation. In an attempt to make this document easier to understand, I will do my best to put it in everyday language. Instead of making it sound extravagant I am purposefully attempting to say it plain. Because of this, my translation will have a bit less passion than the original but it will no doubt make the colonist’s grievances clear.
My interpretation will be done in three parts: The Preamble, the Body, and the Conclusion.
The Preamble is, in my opinion, the most eloquently worded statement on how government should function in relation to its citizens that has ever been written. It is, in essence, a notification to the world that ‘these united Colonies’ have something to declare.
The Body is the list of grievances which the colonists had ‘suffered’ at the hands of the King. They are justification for that which the colonists need to declare.
The Conclusion is the declaration itself. Short and sweet, it says in no uncertain terms that these colonies can do all “Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
In bold you will see the original text. This will be followed by my translation.
Let’s get started.
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.
When a revolutionary group decides to separate from it’s country, the proper thing to do is offer a statement telling the world the reasons for the change.
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 these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Our reason for changing governments is based in the idea that all people are created equally and should have the opportunity to enjoy their lives without fearing the things they hold most dear will be taken from them.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
The main job of government is to protect citizens from having their rights trampled on by other citizens.
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
When a government starts to abuse it's power, the citizens have the right to overthrow it and create a new government that suites them better.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
Usually, if a government makes a few small mistakes, the people will let it slide. Generally, citizens would rather just complain about the government than risk their lives and careers by starting a revolution.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
However, if a government oversteps its authority too many times then the people can, then the people MUST, get rid of it and start fresh.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
This is where we colonists find ourselves. The King has repeatedly abused his authority with the goal of assuming a dictatorship. Here is a list of our complaints:
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
The King has refused to let us pass basic laws.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
The King has stopped his chosen leaders from doing most business and has ignored them when they need assistance.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He will only pass laws the Colonies need if we give up the ability to have a say in those laws.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He makes representatives of the people meet at times and in places that are nearly impossible to get to as a tactic to get us to concede our rights.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
Every time we complain about his abuses, the King stops our elected representatives from holding their meetings.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
While being kept without our representatives, we have no government. In this situation, we cannot resolve any economic or political problems, nor can we defend ourselves if invaded.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has stopped us from being able to attract new settlers to the colonies.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has withheld judges from us, hurting the rule of law.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
The judges we do have get paid by the King, and therefore do what he wants instead of what is right and fair.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He makes all these pointless offices just as a reason to send people here and give us trouble.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
His military has invaded our cities.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has filled the streets with a police force whose procedures we have no control over.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
The King has worked with Parliament to create laws that are unconstitutional.
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
Instead of putting their soldiers in forts, they are stationed in our homes.
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
When these soldiers commit crimes, they are protected from punishment.
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
The King and Parliament have cut off our trade with the rest of the world.
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
They have given us taxation without representation.
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
They have taken away the benefits of a trial by jury.
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
They make up crimes and takes us across the Atlantic Ocean for the trials.
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
Additionally, the King and Parliament have set up Quebec with French laws while expanding its territory all the way to the Midwest. This is obviously to set an example of what we can expect in the future.
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
They have also taken away the Charters which created our colonies. We had always controlled our own affairs, but now our government is a shadow of what it was.
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
Despite us being across the ocean, running our own affairs for over a hundred years, now we are told the King and Parliament control all of our laws in all situations.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
The King has proven he is no longer our leader by starting a war against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
His war has destroyed our communities.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has hired a bunch of German soldiers to come here and brutally murder us.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has captured our citizens and forced them to fight against their friends and family.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
He has turned our people against themselves and he has convinced the Native Americans to attack us.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
We have asked over and over again for the King to listen to our complaints and have repeatedly been ignored. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…this King walks and talks like a dictator. He is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
Also, we kept telling the people of England about the problems we’ve been having. We have reminded them that we are from the same families and have the same beliefs. They too have ignored us. Therefore, as we separate, we must now treat them as if they were from any other country.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Therefore, because of this long list of complaints, on be half of the people of these colonies, we Declare ourselves Independent from Great Britain. We are the United States of America, and we can do anything that is expected of a govern nation. To support this decision, we pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.