Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Messing around with the Declaration of Independence

Back in December I watched the movie National Treasure (involving treasure and the Declaration of Independence). After watching, just for grins, I thought I would read over the text of the Declaration.

As I was reading it, I got to the part where the grievances of the American colonies against the British government were specified, and I noticed that quite a few of them seemed to return to the same issues. So I decided to do an experiment. (It’s the kind of experiment that I, a passionately enthusiastic writing tutor, get a kick out of, so be warned.) I cut and pasted the text of that list into a document. I numbered each list item—1,2,3,4,5, etc.—from top to bottom. Then I started grouping similar topics together, moving list items around. Then I arranged the categories in an order that seemed most logical and effective for an argument.

The following the result. The numbers next to each item represents its order in the original Declaration of Independence. The subtitles are mine:

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.


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

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

2 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.

3 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.


4 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.

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

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

6 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.


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

20 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 into these Colonies

13 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:


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

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

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

19 For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:


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


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

17 For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:


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


27 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 an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

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

14 For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

25 He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

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

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

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

26 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.


28 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.

Me again. Look how the order that I put them in is so different from the numbers on the side that indicate the order they are actually in the original!

When I look at this list and see how changing the order seemed to bring it much better into focus, I can’t help but realize how much stronger the Declaration of Independence would have been if Thomas Jefferson had been able to use a word processor. But even without it, the Declaration of Independence is still strong. It really gives you a sense of what difficulties and oppressions the American colonies labored under, doesn’t it?

Image: retrieved from www.history.com/minisites/declaration.


Mona said...

I just happened across your blog and love it. Having just completed McCullah's "John Adams" and Ellis' books on George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, I'm intrigued by your "Messing Around with the Declaration...". My understanding and appreciation of these men and the times has changed my outlook on history and present events.

I am also a student of the scriptures for a looooong time now (my 50th birthday is coming up) and I look forward to following your blog now that I've found it. I hope you will check out mine too, which I post to each Sunday and which always incorporate gospel living and scripture. This week's is about the atonement: "Leave It There" and I'd love to get your take on the subject.

Michaela Stephens said...

For a recent history class I took I had to read the book "Founding Brothers" by Joseph J. Ellis which is looks at important events in the founding of the country. It really gets inside the heads of the founding fathers and when I was done I really felt like I knew them.