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Modern Historical Mysteries => American History => Topic started by: Bianca on July 05, 2009, 09:10:13 pm

Title: How The Declaration Of Independence Changed The World
Post by: Bianca on July 05, 2009, 09:10:13 pm

                                How the Declaration of Independence Changed the World


Heather Whipps
LiveScience's History Columnist
– Fri Jul 3, 2009

In between mouthfuls of hot dogs and potato salad, Americans on this July Fourth might actually ponder those famous phrases scrawled near the top of the Declaration of Independence:

"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."

When he penned the Declaration in 1776, Thomas Jefferson had an inkling of the consequences it held for the 13 colonies, who were announcing their intention to break free from the shackles of British rule. What he may not have anticipated, however, were the widespread effects his powerful words would also have around the world.

The Declaration of Independence didn't just change the course of American history, but created a ripple effect that nudged a host of other nations toward independence, making a revolutionary poster boy of Jefferson in the process.

Title: Re: How The Declaration Of Independence Changed The World
Post by: Bianca on July 05, 2009, 09:11:34 pm

The Enlightenment

Britain's vast army was already on its way towards New York Harbor when Jefferson sat down to compose the Declaration in June of 1776, beginning:

"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."

The ideas Jefferson expressed, which justified the reasons for revolt with a list of charges against the British king, weren't original. A number of global texts written during the highly charged Enlightenment years of the 17th and 18th centuries included similar ideals about liberty and the right to self-determination, and Americans throughout the colonies were already promoting the progressive worldview in newspapers and schoolbooks.

It was the fiery political climate into which the Declaration was born that made Jefferson's words so important. When his final draft was edited and adopted by Congress on July 4th, the statement signified independence, but it also solidified the path to all-out war, and not just in the new United States.

Title: Re: How The Declaration Of Independence Changed The World
Post by: Bianca on July 05, 2009, 09:12:40 pm

Liberty gets going

Immediately after it was printed, the Declaration sparked worldwide debate on the legitimacy of colonial rule.

Several countries used the document as a shining beacon in their own struggles for independence and adopted Jefferson as their figurehead. Jefferson himself predicted that American independence would be a catalyzing force - a "ball of liberty," he called it - that would soon make its way across the globe.

First came France, whose revolution in the 1780s and 90s drew upon the American experience and literature for inspiration. Jefferson happened to be a minister to France at the time and became an ardent supporter of the revolutionaries, even helping to draft a charter of rights in support of a new republic, eerily similar to the one he'd written just over a decade prior.

With its mother country France in disarray, another colony inspired by the American Revolution sought independence in the late 18th century. Haiti had been a profitable sugar and coffee colony for centuries, known as one of the cruelest plantation islands in the Caribbean. Led by freed slave Toussaint L'Ouverture, who quoted both France and America's declarations to stir the uprising, Haiti achieved its own liberty in 1804. Ironically, former slaves in Haiti had used the Declaration of Independence as a model in their fight for freedom while the document gave no such rights to slaves in the United States.

In the years that followed, themes from the Declaration were sourced and reinterpreted for further independence movements in Greece, Poland, Russia and throughout South America. A world of empires was gradually turning into a world of sovereign states. 

Title: Re: How The Declaration Of Independence Changed The World
Post by: Bianca on July 05, 2009, 09:13:50 pm

John Adams predicted in a letter to his wife Abigail that Americans would celebrate their Independence Day on July 2. Off by two days — not too bad for government work.

On July 2, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, signed only by Charles Thompson (the secretary of Congress) and John Hancock (the presiding officer). Two days later Congress approved the revised version and ordered it to be printed and distributed to the states and military officers. The other signatures would have to wait.

Many actually viewed the Declaration of Independence as a yawner — a rehashing of arguments already made against the British government. John Adams would later describe the Declaration as "dress and ornament rather than Body, Soul, or Substance." The exception was the last paragraph that said the united colonies "are and of Right ought to be Free and Independent states" and were "Absolved of all Allegiance to the British Crown."

For Adams, it was the momentum towards achieving American independence initiated on July 2 that future generations would consider worth celebrating, not the approval of this document on July 4.

Interestingly, the pomp and circumstance that many Americans presume took place on July 4, 1776, actually occurred days to weeks afterwards.

The Philadelphia Evening Post published the Declaration's full text in its July 6 newspaper. And the Declaration of Independence was publicly read from the State House in Philadelphia on July 8. Later that day, it was read in Easton, PA, Trenton, NJ, and to the local embryonic militia to provide much-needed inspiration against the formidable British.

The shouting and firing of muskets that followed these first public readings represent America's first celebrations of independence.

As copies spread, the Declaration of Independence would be read at town meetings and religious services. In response, Americans lit bonfires, fired guns, rang bells, and removed symbols of the British monarchy.

The following year, no member of Congress thought about commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence until July 3 — one day too late. So the first organized elaborate celebration of independence occurred the following day: July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia. Ships in the harbor were decked in the nation's colors. Cannons rained 13-gun salutes in honor of each state. And parades and fireworks spiced up the festivities.

Fireworks did not become staples of July 4 celebrations until after 1816, when Americans began producing their own pyrotechnics and no longer relied on expensive fireworks from across the pond.

Since 1777, the tradition of celebrating America’s independence on July 4 has continued.