On 4th of July 1776 the Declaration of Independence, a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson and other ‘framers,’ declared that the 13 former British colonies now formed the first independent nation of the Western world. Alongside the Constitution, the Declaration is the symbol of the American Revolution. Primarily a list of grievances against King George III, this document is most famous for the following sentence which Jefferson believed to be “an expression of the American mind:”
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.
While the American Revolution lacked the social upheaval, bloodshed, religious change, or drastic re-distribution of wealth that characterized the French or Bolshevik revolutions, its effects can be considered ‘revolutionary:’ the generation of new ideas on governance, increasing popular participation in politics, the repudiation of inherited privilege, breaking with Imperialism, and serving as a model for future anti-colonial movements of independence, such as Flanders in 1790, Venezuela in 1811, and even Vietnam (ironically) in 1945.
But the Declaration of Independence is also significant for the number of struggles and contests centred on the interpretation and application of its most memorable phrase: ‘all men are created equal.’ The omission of ‘and women’ reminds us how half the population were denied the victories of the Revolution, not to mention Native Americans. The long history of the black freedom struggle, from slavery to the contemporary events (such as the violence in Ferguson and New York), is testament to the fact that the United States has struggled to live up to its ideals since its birth.