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?



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

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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american flag fireworks

The 4TH of July and the 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 about this document makes people celebrate its signing year after year?


declaration and quill

By the time the Declaration of Independence was 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.

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Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

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


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 and 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 understand these literary tools better. As you watch, write down a more detailed description of each appeal to help you later.

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  • 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, look at three excerpts.

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Before identifying which excerpt speaks to the author's character or appeals to reason or emotion, 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.r

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 their brutality in battle.

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

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