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Declaration of Independence for Kids and Teachers - US Government Illustration

Declaration of Independence
For Kids

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For Kids

The American colonists were British citizens, but they were not being treated like citizens by the British parliament or by the king. British parliament kept passing abusive laws. When the colonists tried to argue these laws, more laws were passed that caused even more abuse. The colonists were becoming more and more angry about the way things were. The Continental Congress decided to fight back. They decided the colonies needed to be independent from Britain.

Thomas Jefferson was given the job of writing the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress committee. Thomas Jefferson wrote the original Declaration in just four days. He reworked it a bit over the next two weeks. When he was done, he gave a copy to Ben Franklin and John Adams to read and edit before the next meeting of Congress, which they did.

The Declaration is not a long document. It begins with two sentences: "When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary 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 stations 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. 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."

The Declaration goes on to explain that when a government does not protect the rights of its citizens it loses its right to govern. The Declaration lists specific reasons for breaking from Britain. For the full text of the Declaration, please scroll down. But here are a couple of abuses listed in the Declaration: 

  • For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

  • For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: 

On  July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Only two people signed the Declaration on July 4th - John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, and Charles Thomson as secretary. Five hundred (500) copies of the Declaration were printed and distributed. It was not until Aug 2, 1776, that 56 men, including John Hancock, signed a fresh copy of the Declaration of Independence. Back in Britain, King George received his copy on Aug 10th.

If you want to see the original copy of the Declaration, you will need to visit the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where this document is on display. If you would like to read the text of this document, scroll to the bottom of this page. Or go here: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript  As you read the Declaration, notice the grammar. Some words are capitalized in places that are not grammatically correct. That was intentional. These are important words, expressing important ideas, and Thomas Jefferson wanted to call attention to them. Some words are not spelled the way we would spell them today in America. That's because at the time the Declaration was written, the colonists were British citizens, and some words are spelled the way those words are spelled in Britain today. Some words are a reflection of the times. It is very important to read the Declaration as it was written. The Declaration is a National Treasure. It is one of our country's most important freedom documents because of what it says and how it is written.

The youngest signer was Edward Rutledge who was twenty-six years old. The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin, who was seventy. Two of the signers later became presidents of the United States - John Adams who became the 2nd president of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson, who became the 3rd president. What might surprise you is that George Washington did not sign the Declaration. He did not sign the Constitution either. (George Washington became the first president of the United States because he was the military hero of the American Revolution.)

The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were incredibly brave. They were the leaders of colonial government. People knew who they were and where they lived. They had families. They took an incredible risk signing the Declaration. There was an outside chance that British parliament might respond by agreeing that perhaps they had been a tad bit unfair with the laws they had imposed on the American colonists. But far more likely, the signers knew once King George received a copy of the Declaration that troops would be sent to arrest them. They also knew that many colonists, although angry at British treatment, did not wish to break from Britain. What these colonists wanted was for things to improve. But things were not improving. They were getting worse. Our founding fathers decided it was time to become independent, even if that meant war with Britain.

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The Declaration of Independence - transcript

Lesson Idea:
Rewrite the Declaration of Independence
After the kids try to do this, ask them:
Is it difficult?
What are you missing?
What flexibility did you leave for future leaders?
Could someone misunderstand your meaning?
Justify your answer.

Text of the Declaration of Independence:

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.

     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. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - 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. 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. 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. - 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.

     He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

     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.

     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 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 has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

     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.

     He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

     He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

     He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

     He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

     He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislature.

     He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to Civil Power.

     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:

     For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

     For protecting them, by mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

     For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

     For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

     For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

     For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

     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 in these Colonies:

     For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

     For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

     He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

     He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

     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 and Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

     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 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 undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

     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.

     Nor have We been wanting in attention to our British 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. These 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.

     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 the 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.