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An Excerpt from the United States Declaration of Independence

Ratified on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence announced the thirteen colonies' separation from Great Britain and set the nation's civic standard that "all Men are created equal."
Author
Thomas Jefferson
Grade Level

In Congress, July 4, 1776. 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, 

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 shown, 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.  

Source
This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
Question
Reread the first paragraph.
What does the word "impel" mean?
Answer
Impel means to drive or force someone to do something.
Question
Why might Jefferson have chosen this word over words like "caused?"
Answer
The word "impel" carries more weight than "caused." It evokes the feeling that the colonies had no other choice.
Question
What claim does Jefferson put forth for writing the Declaration of Independence?
Answer
Jefferson claims that the 13 colonies should explain the reasons behind their desire to severe ties with Great Britain.
(Note: Great Britain is not named until the end of this excerpt, so the teacher may need to guide students to
this understanding with prompting and scaffolding.)
Question
Summarize the first sentence of the second paragraph in your own words.
Answer
Answers will vary and should include the following: The 13 colonies operate on the belief that all men are created
equal and have certain rights that cannot be taken away from them. God gave these rights, and they include the right
to a free and just life and the freedom to do what makes them satisfied.
Question
Reread the second paragraph to the sentence that ends, “to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Why does Jefferson claim the 13 colonies have the right to separate from Great Britain?
Answer
He states that when a government destroys or withholds its citizens’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness, all citizens have the right to “alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”
Reread the remainder of the second paragraph.
Question
What additional support does Jefferson provide for his claim that the 13 colonies have a right to separate from
Great Britain?
Answer
He states that they have suffered a long string of abuses, that Great Britain has usurped or taken them over
forcefully, and that Great Britain has tried to rule the colonies with absolute power. And, for this reason, the colonies
have the right and responsibility to release themselves from British control.
Question
Reread the final sentence in the excerpt.
What can you infer will come next in the document?
Answer
Jefferson will list specific offenses committed or instituted by Great Britain.