The Realities of the Declaration of Independence

The word ‘liberation’ brings to mind exuberant people bathing in the luxury of freedom, away from the weight of controls and obligations set upon them, enjoying their natural rights. Liberation for all citizens of the United States of America is commonly believed to have been established by the Declaration of Independence, being written in order to separate the colonies from the British Crown, and to impose a new democratic government in order to protect the people’s “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.” Yet, when examining the underlying realities of the ideals presented in this document, one can recognize the irony of how the natural rights and freedoms solidified in the Declaration, were only applicable to the white males of America, and did not improve the treatment of women and slaves. “The People” in actuality, only consisted of the white male landowners. The Declaration was even written by a white male intellect, Thomas Jefferson, obviously with his best interests in mind. Nowhere in the document does it address any betterment of women or slaves’ lives. Liberation? The Declaration of Independence only presented ideals for the protection of “the people” in America, it actually did nothing to improve the realities of anyone besides the white males of the colonies, hardly something to consider a true liberation.

The rights of the colonists were often infringed upon by Britain, as King George III imposed numerous trade and tax acts that were intended only for the benefit of the British Crown. The colonist were being treated as inferior to the British, and they viewed the reign of the King as a ‘tyranny.’ America wanted to establish their own natural rights, an idea introduced by John Locke in his Two Treatises on Government, and create an independent government that would actually protect the welfare of the people in the American colonies. “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,” (Declaration of Independence). This is the revolutionary ideal that served as the foundation for modern America. The Declaration strived to establish all men as possessing equal rights and freedoms that must be protected by a democratic government. The unfavorable treatment by the British led the new, enlightened American founders to stray away from the ‘despotic’ system of government that had previously been imposed upon the colonies, and create a liberated society for ‘all mankind.’ On paper, this seemed like a solution to benefit the wellbeing of all American citizens, but these words showed a vast contrast to the harsh realities experienced by slaves. In actuality, the term ‘all mankind,’ really means ‘all white males.’

In the time when this Declaration was written, slaves were still considered not as people, but as ‘property.’ They were not counted as members of society, and had absolutely no influence in their communities. Slaves were stripped of their rights as soon as they were shipped off the African shores and chained to wooden boat decks, laying shoulder-to-shoulder next to other diseased and dying Africans. When arriving on the shores of America, the slaves did not enter a place described by the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, but were instead forced to work in horrible conditions on white men’s plantations, where most ended up dead. “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” were never experienced by the African people in America. The ideals of natural rights and freedoms was something completely foreign to the slaves. The terminology in the Declaration ironically contradicts its true meaning. Obviously the proposition of “all men created equal” should have specified that this only applied to white men owning a significant amount of land. Even though the slaves were in fact, living, breathing people, their status was ‘property,’ and they were certainly not included in the protection by the democratic government and its ideals of liberation. Again, the ideals written in the Declarations show a great difference when compared to the realities experienced by ‘inferior’ citizens.

In the Declaration, The American founders also outlined their ideas for a new government, independent from Britain. They were aware of the risk of corruption or an overpowered executive branch in their government. In writing the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson ratified another natural law borrowed from John Locke, giving the right to the people to overthrow the government if it began to violate their rights. “…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,” (Declaration of Independence). The colonist were fearful of another overpowered monarch like King George III when establishing their own government, and this ideal was intended to give more control to the general people, and allow them to have a large influence on the government system. Yet, in this time period, the term “the people,” was not actually referring to all members of the colonies. women’s safety and happiness was definitely not protected by their government run by the white male elites.

Women’s rights were utterly non-existent in early America, in fact they weren’t allowed to vote until as late as the 1920’s, and it was even legal for men to beat their wives. Expectations for women in the colonial society were mainly to care for their family and make sure dinner was on the table for their husbands every night. They had no real influence on the government or any other aspects of their community. The ideals expressed in the declaration regarding ‘the people’s’ right to abolish unjust government, excluded the entire gender of women. Women were regarded as inferior to the white males who controlled government and devised the Declaration in their favor. This ideal presented in the Declaration did not even mention that it only applied to white males, because it was already assumed that women were incapable of making rational decisions in society. Women would never be taken seriously if they actually tried to stand up against for their violated natural rights. The reality for women was that their rights were infringed upon every day, but they were too dominated by the white male power to enact this ideal and take their unalienable rights. The presentation made by the Declaration emphasizes giving all people an ability to influence their own government, however in reality, this ideal excludes women.

The ideals presented in The Declaration of Independence laid the foundation for an ideal government, separate from British control with a purpose of protecting the happiness of American citizens. It is ironic how the founders of America used the term “the people” so prevalently when referring to the protection of natural and equal rights. Apparently they should have used the phrase “the white males” instead. Realities for the women and slaves in the colonies were extremely unfair, and they were definitely not equivalent to the liberties of the white males. The ideals presented in the Declaration of Independence greatly differ from the realities experienced by women and slaves.





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BeatleMania16 said...
Jul. 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm
i agree with you--the contents of the declaration of independance/constitution have been glossed over many times. there is a reason, however insufficient, for the neglect of mentioning slaves in the constitution; thomas jefferson was afraid that the banishment of slavery would rip apart America, as it was just beginning and very unstable. i'm not necessarily agreeing with his reasoning, but i want you to know that the abolition of slavery was included in the first drafts of the constitution, but... (more »)
 
IM7xcutEEE <3 said...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm
thx 4 dis!!!
it really helped me in my civics/history homework
 
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