Declaration of Independence: History, Meaning, Continental Congress, and Facts

The responsibility of doing this fell to an Illinois statesman and politician by name Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln did one thing that his predecessors had for decades refused to acknowledge or abide by.  America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln drew from the Declaration of Independence during one of the most trying times in America’s history. He, along with some northern states in the Union, was strongly opposed to slavery because he felt that the principles of the Declaration document should be taken in words and not in spirit.

Abraham Lincoln was an example of those who wanted to see slavery come to an end. He had great admiration of the Founding Fathers and believed that the Declaration of Independence was designed to also end slavery else why include the text: “all men are born equal” in it. Lincoln argued that the Founding Fathers envisaged the abolishing of slavery in future. According to Lincoln the drafters of the Declaration never really condoned slavery. Rather they sought to gradually eradicate it from their states. Lincoln vehemently opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1853 (an act that sought to legitimize slavery) because it violated not just principles of the Declaration but that of the Nature’s Law.  He believed that the phrase was a universal truth, a truth that sought to improve the lives of all men across the world. An extract from Lincoln’s Peoria’s speech is as follow:

Let us repurify it. Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. … If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving

Lincoln’s Peoria speech in October 1854

Lincoln’s pursuit for equality and liberty brought him into conflict with Stephen Douglas all throughout the middle part of the 19th century. Douglas maintained that the “all men are created equal” phrase only applied to white men.  

As time went by, Lincoln’s interpretation of the Declaration gradually became a crucial spectrum through which the U.S. constitution would be interpreted. Lincoln was therefore the first person to read the Declaration of Independence into the United States Constitution. The principles from the Declaration of Independence (along with the U.S. constitution) had successfully brought about an end to slavery in 1865.

The Declaration gets picked up by the Women’s Suffrage Movement

At the Seneca Falls Convention (in New York) in July 1848, the women’s right movement pondered why the famous and most natural law principle: “all men are created equal” surprisingly excluded women in the wording. Soon the members of these movement started demanding suffrage for women using the motto: “all men and women are created equal”. Their goal of attaining suffrage (voting rights) for women was not realized until 1920 kind courtesy to the 19th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

Relevance of the Declaration document after the American Revolution

After the American Revolution, the public sort of paid less attention to the Declaration. They did however celebrate the 4th of July. The Declaration document was like an indictment document against the British crown, particularly King George. And although the principles and the philosophies that underpinned the Declaration are undeniably relevant, the text and the specifics had served its purpose. The text and the indictments on the declaration could therefore not be used in subsequent political debates such as when the American Constitution was been drafted. What featured most during the drawing up of the constitution was George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

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