I know most Americans don’t understand this, but the Declaration of Independence was never written for King George nor for Parliament. Sure, it was sent to them, but they were not the target audience: The American People were!
On Saturday June 28th at Fort Mifflin and again on Friday July 3rd at Thornbury Farms near the Brandywine Battlefield, I will be reading the Declaration of Independence to a crowd. This is how this magnificent document was meant to be presented. Not as a dry piece of legalize elegantly written in script to be harrumphed and debated in the Kings Court; but rather as passionate oration, with hecklers, in the public square.
When you look at the structure of this document you will find it is a legal divorce and follows the following key sections:
- In the Preamble, Jefferson sets up the case, including the foundation for WHY we have the right to declare ourselves independent.
- In the “Abuses and Usurpations” section of the case, Jefferson then goes on to explain that the colonies have suffered at least 27 abuses and usurpations of power by King George III and Parliament.
- Finally, Jefferson argues that King George has abdicated his role as King and abandoned the American people and is therefore unfit to rule over these colonies.
So why did he choose this legal construct? Clearly, he is not informing King George of what the Crown and Parliament have done. Everybody understands that they knew exactly what they were doing. Clearly, he is not informing King George that he has violated the English Constitution and the English Bill of Rights. George doesn’t think these apply to the Colonies. Jefferson’s argument is being made to the other kings of Europe, with whom we hope to forge alliances, and to American people, at least a third of whom do not support rebellion.
The case needs to be made in a legal format to the monarchies of Europe, many of whom have colonies that they don’t wish to lose, so that they can see this is a unique case and not just disaffected subjects complaining about their mistreatment. Jefferson aims to paint George III as a delinquent monarch who has failed. This gives other monarchs, namely Louis XVI of France and Charles III of Spain, the ability to claim that they are not as bad as George III and therefore supporting the American cause does not undermine their authority in their own colonies.
The case needs to be made with passion to the American people in order to stir them to action. Patriotism is an emotional thing and giving up your allegiance to your present country in favor of a new and yet to be formed union of former colonies (we won’t truly become the United States the Constitution is ratified in 1787). This is why Gen. Washington ordered the Declaration of Independence read to the Army in Manhattan July 9. This is why Col. John Nixon read the Declaration of Independence in the Pennsylvania Statehouse (AKA Independence Hall) courtyard on July 10 and then allowed his militiamen to tear down the Royal Coat of Arms from the courtroom and take it away to be burned. This is why I will read the that same Declaration of Independence to the public 244 years later.
Come join us, as we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor to something bigger than allegiance to tradition and a king.