Lesson 1: The Declaration of Independence

      Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the Declaration of Independence in the early summer of 1776.   Its purpose was to announce that the 13 English colonies in North America had decided to become independent of England and start their own, new country.
     Jefferson used ideas about people and governments that were new in the 1600s and 1700s.   One important idea stated in the Declaration of Independence was that "all men are created equal."   Jefferson  wrote that God gave rights to people--"Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"-- and that no one or no government should be able to take those rights away
Another idea is that a government gets its power from the people.  This principle is called popular sovereignty.  The Declaration of Independence states that a government gets or derives its power from the people it rules.  If the government misuses its power, the people have the right to form a new government. 
       By the middle of the 1700s, English colonists living in America had set up their own governments in towns and colonies.  They usually made their own laws and chose the people they wanted to represent them.  In 1760, King George III became the ruler of Great Britain and decided to take more control of the colonies.  King George and the English Parliament passed taxes and laws that the colonists hated and felt were unfair.  

    In 1774, a group of colonial leaders met (the First Continental Congress) and wrote a letter to the king declaring they were loyal subjects and asking him to let them elect their own leaders and make their own laws.  King George ignored the colonists' complaints and said the colonies were in rebellion. 

     The colonists felt that England and the king had abused their power.  And as the Declaration of Independence states, when this happens to people, "It is their right, their duty, to throw off such Government." 

The signing of the Declaration of Independence

    Each of the 13 colonies sent representatives to a meeting in Philadelphia, called the Second Continental Congress.  On July 4, 1776, these 56 delegates signed and adopted the Declaration of Independence.

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