The influence of the United States’ Declaration of IndependenceThroughout the 18th century, a growing tension between Great Britain and their colonies in North America dominated the political arena of both nations. The growing tension, caused by increased taxes on sugar, tea, and other goods sold to the colonists without fair representation in British Parliament, eventually led to one of the most historically influential breaking points in modern times. In 1776, the representation of the Colonists discussed human rights, gathered their accusations of King George III into one document written by Thomas Jefferson.
The document that proclaimed the rights of the people and the crimes of the King was titled the Declaration of Independence and it has become one of the most influential documents on various movements, and revolutions around the world ever since its creations. The agelessness of such a document can largely be attributed to its use of ambiguous language. This Declaration, now recognized as “…perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization” has inspired many individuals to claim independence from oppression and declare to the world “that all men are created equal” (Lucas) (Jefferson). Even though this timeless document was written over 250 years ago, it still has maintained relevance throughout history, and its words resonate as loudly as they did in 1776. The concepts discussed in the document such as freedom, equality, liberty, and political autonomy are desires that have been persistent throughout history.
The language and structure of the document create a sense that the document, and its principles, can be applied to a wide variety of situations because of its appeal to basic human nature.The Declarations willfully and carefully chosen language allows it to appeal to large audiences and to be relevant in various situations. One of the key elements included in the document has to do with God and creation. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Jefferson) which shows that the colonists believed that not even King George III was above the power of god and everything he had given humanity. “The Declaration’s affirmations about God rested on a species of natural theology, rather than special revelation, and could therefore be accepted by rationalists such as Thomas Jefferson” (Beck). The Declaration demonstrates “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as three rights that are naturally given by the creator, but also that god given rights extend far beyond the ones included. The ambiguity of the way human rights are enumerated in the Declaration has allowed them to be defined appropriately for future interpretations.
Labeling the rights that are listed as ‘God-given’ also implied that the acts of King George were not ordained by God, which ultimately led to a sense of ‘right or wrong’ between the colonies and the British Loyalists.An additional example of the Declarations ambiguous language can be found in its instructions on facing a tyrannical government. Jefferson states that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive…it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government laying its foundation on such principles.” While this statement is somewhat specific in terms of its reference to a certain political issue, it can generally be applied to a vast range of different issues. It is able to be applied to a wide range of states and societies at a different periods of history because of the use of “the right of the people” and “any form of government”. These phrases suggest that any nation’s government depends on its citizens approval to be successful. Governments are organized by the people of a state in large part to provide the people with security.
It is when a government threatens the security it is supposed to provide, that the people then should have the right to revolt and abolish that government. Leaders, as a result of citizens’ newfound empowerment, lost their divineness in the eyes of the people. Through the use of vague references such as “any form of government,” the Declaration helped to encourage many people to fight for the rights that it claims Americans are to have.
The use of such ambiguous language like that in the Declaration paved the way for others to adopt its principles into their everyday thinking. Ambiguity, in the case of the Declaration by its nature allows for a more cryptic meaning that is left more to the interpretation of the reader. “By referring to people rather than provinces, the opening phrases [of the Declaration] signal that the colonists are now exercising a revolutionary right to fashion a new government, and no longer merely attempting to reclaim the customary rights of their separate provincial legislatures” (Rakove 76).
Rakove attempts to explain how by referring to the oppressed as people and not provinces, it not only shows the colonists intentions in their own situation, but also allows a wider range of people to gather behind a movement. By referring to individuals, and not collective groups, Jefferson and the other contributors to the Declaration of Independence realized that they were limiting the possibility of alienating one or more specific groups of people, which would have doomed such a treasonous document that needed strong support to have any chance at success at what its writers intended. In conclusion, the United States’ Declaration of Independence had a massive impact on the rest of the world’s history. The Declaration utilized deliberately vague and ambiguous language in order to appeal to larger audiences, and to ensure that its key principles were able to be applied to variety of scenarios. The declaration outlines and describes many rights that many colonists were able to agree were endowed with every man.
These include freedom, equality, liberty, and political autonomy. Jefferson realized that appealing to more people through pandering to the listener was a good way to gain support for such a treasonous cause. The gravity of such a masterfully crafted document in terms of its use of language and tone, still impacts the world today.