The Declaration of Independence As Literature

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13865

When Thomas Jefferson was tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence, he was just 33 -- much younger than many other Founding Fathers. Why was he chosen, and what did he accomplish?

categories

Writing

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

american flag fireworks

The 4TH of July and Declaration of Independence inspire an incredible amount of patriotism in modern-day America.

However, those who first read (or heard) it in 1776 were surprised by how eloquent and persuasive it was.

  • What is it about this document that makes people celebrate its signing year after year?

Background

declaration and quill

By the time the Declaration of Independence was being written, it was clear that a war with England was inevitable. Battles had already been fought, and the British government was unwilling to negotiate.

As a result, a committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson was formed to create a document explaining the need for war and independence.

Jefferson was tasked with explaining why the United States of America wanted to separate from the British Empire; however, many did not expect the articulate and expansive ideas present in the document.

To better understand the literary significance of Jefferson's writing, watch this clip from the HBO show John Adams in which Franklin and Adams read Jefferson's final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams - Writing the Declaration of Independence (with subs) from doxa89:

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

  • How did Thomas Jefferson write a document that inspired people like the Founding Fathers so much?

ethos

The entire Declaration of Independence is centered around utilizing three appeals to persuade the reader.

Although the document would be sent to the King of England, its purpose was not to persuade him. The goal was to persuade all the British citizens living in the American colonies to side with the revolutionaries as well as gain support abroad in countries like France, who would hopefully send troops and supplies to help the cause.

So Jefferson incorporated ethos (character of speaker), pathos (emotion), and logos (reason) into his document.

Watch a portion of the video below to better understand these literary tools. As you watch, write down a more detailed description of each appeal to help you later.

How to use rhetoric to get what you want - Camille A. Langston from TED-ED:

  • Why do you think utilizing all three of these devices in a single work is very persuasive?

By addressing all three, you can assure the reader that you are credible, pull at their emotions so they are more willing to believe you, and support your argument with logic and reason, which the reader will likely agree with if it is true.

  • So, how did Jefferson incorporate these into the Declaration of Independence?

Declaration of Independence

signing of declaration

Rather than examine the entire document, let's look at three excerpts.

Before identifying which one of these excerpts speaks to the character of the author or appeals to reason or emotion, let's explore what each says.

Excerpt #1 is from the very beginning of the Declaration of Independence and states that the colonies will explain themselves and tell the king why they see it fit to separate from British rule.

Excerpt #2 is the most famous passage. It states that, when a government stops ensuring the rights of human beings, that government no longer has any justification to rule.

Finally, Excerpt #3 refers to the armies England was paying to sail into the colonies and comments on how barbaric they are in battle.

Move on to the Got It? section to further explore the background behind this document in order to properly identify to which each of these excerpts is appealing.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.