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The Declaration of Independence (1776)

Thomas Jefferson

Conclusion and Definition of a New Government

Past Actions of Colonists

Study Questions

Summary

The Second Continental Congress represents the people of the new nation called the United States of America. This declaration informs all the people of the world that the 13 united colonies are free from British rule and any political connections with Great Britain. The declaration also serves to appeal to the people of the world to understand the reasons why this separation is justifiable.

The independent states claim the power to levy war, make peace, make alliances with foreign nations, conduct trade, and to do anything else that independent states have the right to do.

The newly independent states believe that God will protect them in their venture to establish a just government. The citizens of each colony have pledged their loyalty and lives to the cause of the newly independent nation.

Commentary

The conclusion is important in clarifying the identity of the new nation, as well as defining the powers granted to the new government. Many of the delegates to the Second Continental Convention saw the Declaration of Independence as important because of the message it would send to foreign nations. They were especially concerned with enlisting the military help of the French in their war against Great Britain. They therefore thought it necessary to assert clearly that they had no allegiance or connection to Great Britain.

The new nation is not only named in this conclusion as the United States of America, but its authority is defined as well. The conclusion serves to establish the authority of the Second Continental Congress over issues of international affairs, war and peace, and trade. With these powers in hand, the Congress is empowered to run the affairs of government related to the declared war.

However, the conclusion is unclear regarding the individual states' responsibilities to each other. The Declaration describes itself as a union of colonies, each of which is a free and independent state. This is problematic because the statement indicates that the colonies are one united whole, while simultaneously stating that each state is free and independent. A few sentences later, the Declaration states that the former colonies, " as free and independent states, ... have full power to levy war," thereby indicating that each state, individually, has the right to levy war, make peace, etc. This inconsistency would later turn into a debate about the nature of the government of the United States. Was the United States a loose confederation of independent states, each of which could act on behalf of its own interest? Or, was the United States a strong centralized nation in which the powers of the whole were stronger than the powers of each individual state? The Declaration states that the colonists have pledged mutual allegiance, but does that mean the pledge will continue beyond the war effort?

Another problem with the Declaration is that while the free and independent states are granted the right to make war and peace, the document gives no specific provisions explaining how the war will be paid for. This problem plagued Congress during the Revolutionary War and for many years afterwards. Without the power to tax, Congress could only request money from colonial governments, which had debts of their own to pay. The vague reference to these issues served to keep the statement of independence from being further bogged down in political debate.

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