As a testament of a nation’s democratic foundations, the Declaration of Independence is arguably the most significant document in American History. Penned by Thomas Jefferson and the parliamentary government at the time, the document persuasively argues for the separation of the united colonies of America from the rule of the British Monarch. The document is designed to persuade their rulers that liberty is every human right, that governance is essentially rests on the hands of the people, and that severing their political connection to Great Britain is justified.
As a form of rhetorical text, the Declaration of Independence exemplifies a powerful propagandistic document owing much of its potency to its structure, diction, and rhetorical devices. The declaration consists of five parts: the introduction, the preamble, the accusation against King George III, the criticism of the British people and the conclusion. The introduction begins as a general declaration of the necessity to resist oppression. In the context of American history, this justifies the revolution which besets the country at the time. Jefferson uses the imagery of a slave in bond seeking to be unshackled from his inhuman chains.
The word “necessary” relates to the idea that resistance is the beginning of independence and nationhood, and that it is but an assertion of one’s divine right. In stating its argumentative thesis, the document invokes the “Laws of Nature and of God” in justifying resistance and the call for independence as natural and thus, necessary. It is in the introduction that Jefferson states the thesis of the document: the American colonies call for independence is justified because the cruelties of the present rulers necessitate that they assert their divine right for equality and liberty.
In the succeeding part, the document proceeds with the preamble in which the philosophy of a government is outlined to serve the initial purpose of justifying the people’s call for independence. One of the striking qualities of this part of the document is the parallelism which creates the cadent and rhythmic flow of the passage. The repetition of that, a rhetorical device called anaphora, stresses each part of the passage with simplicity and economy of words. In the preamble, Jefferson states five propositions which relate to the democratic philosophy of government.
The propositions are as follows: that men are all equal, that each are given divine, absolute rights, that these rights include life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness, that government is instituted to protect these rights, and that any government violating them must be abolished. The proposition is logically arranged, beginning with a basic and foundational truth leading to the relation of that truth to the document’s objective: the abolition of British governance in America.
These simple logical propositions imply that the British government is curtailing the divine, immutable rights of the American people and must then be abolished in the colonies. From a general, abstract and universal statement, Jefferson narrows down the argument in the third part of the document. As a major part of the declaration, the accusation against King George III is given ample space since the king is the originator and ruler of British governance in America.
As such, any form of oppression which the people oppose must be blamed against the ruler. Jefferson specifies the accusation against the king in a successive list of violations and injustices committed by the King against the colonies. The use of enumeration is an effective rhetorical device which creates the effect of a hammer blow. Jefferson obviously employs parallelism and anaphora to deliver the attacks in succession. This listing style gives no space for reasoning, justification or refutation and as such becomes propagandistic.
Jefferson also uses strong, vilifying verbs such as refused, forbidden, dissolves, absolved, etc. arousing and affecting the emotions of the readers. In the accusation against the King, the founding fathers of America identifies how the King, and in the latter part, the British people, violated the divine rights of the people. The preamble outlines the truth and assumptions of the declaration regarding the necessity of resistance in a five point proposition, while the accusation buttresses these assumptions with specific instances of violation by the king.
Among these are the prohibition of establishing laws in the colonies that will cater to the local needs of the people, refusal to provide a fair trial, curtailment of right to trade and commerce, and oppression through the unbalanced empowerment of the military. The fourth part of the declaration expands the accusation of the American people to include the “British brethren” who have refused to hear out the pleas and appeals of the people. In turning deaf to their outcries, in spite of the fact that the British at some point in their history have rallied the same battle cry, the British people act as accomplices to the cruelties of the King.
Thus, they must be blamed as well for the injustices imposed against the American people. Jefferson concludes the document by echoing the statements made in the introduction. This part restates the truths and assumptions of the founding fathers so the readers can consider them in light of the arguments listed in the body of the document. In the conclusion, Jefferson restates that the source from which government derives its power is none other than the divine, implying that it cannot go against the basic liberties which the divine have bequeathed to each man.
Having laid out the arguments, Jefferson involves the people in the call for independence by making it a collective clamor. This deliberate choice of words enables the document to create an impact that the call for independence is impending and urgent. The document also rouses its readers into action by convincing them to adopt the arguments laid out in it. The potency of the Declaration of Independence rests mainly of the effective composition of Jefferson. Through logical arrangement and apt use of style, he is able to invoke the sense of patriotism which the unborn nation of America needed at the time.