What Is the Purpose of the Declaration of Independence?

Learn about the purpose of the Declaration of Independence discussed by the experts.

Here are their insights:

Alain L. Sanders

Alain Sanders

Associate Professor Emeritus (Department of Political Science), Saint Peter’s University

The Declaration of Independence was the American restatement, by its primary author Thomas Jefferson, of John Locke’s theory of government.

It had two primary purposes:

The Declaration was a press release

It was a statement from the Founders intended to explain why the United States had decided to break away from Great Britain and why this was the correct thing to do.

In the words of the Declaration, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that [Americans] should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The press release was essential because, in the turbulent times of the period, not all Americans—including not all American leaders—were convinced that a break from England was a wise political, economic, or societal move.

The Declaration was thus meant to convince the Founders themselves, the Founders’ opponents, the general public, and the broader international community, especially Europe, that independence was justified.

The Declaration was the mission statement of the United Sates of America

The document laid out four goals for the creation of the new country:

Recognizing and protecting the natural rights of the people

One was the goal of recognizing and protecting the natural or inalienable rights of the people, eloquently stated in the Declaration to be the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The objective of political equality

Next was the objective of political equality, the notion that everyone equally possesses natural or inalienable rights, because as the Declaration proclaimed, “all men are created equal.”

Declaration stated that governments are a social contract

The last two goals were explained by the Declaration this way:

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, the Declaration stated that governments are a social contract, the result of mutual consent between the people and the rulers.

Moreover, because of its dependence on the people’s consent, that contract is a limited contract for a limited government of just powers.

To create a limited government

In sum, the mission of the United States, as set out in the Declaration of Independence, was to create a limited government, based on the consent of the people, dedicated to upholding the rights—equally for everyone—to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Related: What Is the Purpose of Government?

We are still on that mission. History will judge how well we stay on it.

To create the first country in history founded on Aristotle’s recognition of Man as “rational animal”

The purpose of the Founding Fathers in writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that implemented it was to create the first country in history founded on Aristotle’s recognition of Man as the “rational animal.”

Related: What Is the Purpose of the Constitution?

The rational animal

Evolution replaced automatic animal instinct in humans with “reason” as his means of survival because it improved adaptability. We spread across Africa, the globe, and now into space.

Lacking the automatic behavioral guidance of instinct, humans must choose their behaviors to survive. Animals and humans “integrate” the information provided by the senses into percepts which are mental abstractions representing things grasped in reality.

Unlike animals, humans can further integrate percepts into concepts, concepts into principles, principles into sciences, and all the sciences into a philosophy.

Knowledge based on facts of reality is “valid” knowledge, accurate. We also have an imagination that can be the source of creativity.

However, higher abstract knowledge integrated from things imagined is “invalid,” false. Emotions are automatic behavioral guidance similar to instinct.

However, the human subconscious starts blank and is programmed by conscious thinking. Suppose we automate invalid knowledge into our subconscious, conflicting emotions result.

Fortunately, we have the ability for our conscious thinking to identify and override invalid emotions.


A human’s physical nature requires that he be free to use his mind to choose the behaviors that will sustain his life. An enslaved person is prevented by force from choosing his behaviors.

His life is at the mercy of his captors. The reemergence of Aristotelian reasoning based on reality led Europe out of the Dark Ages (imagined mysticism) to the Renaissance and men of the rational mind like Galileo, Newton, and Locke.

The Founding Fathers, as Renaissance thinkers, understood that it was Man’s nature as the “rational animal” that dictated his right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—freedom.

An individual must be free to choose his actions and trade with others without anyone being subjected to force, coercion or sacrifice.


As America was founded, Aristotle’s ideas fell from favor in Europe, with popularized anti-reality, anti-reality ideas later leading Europe to fascism, Nazism, and communism.

When the Founding Fathers started universities in America, they unwittingly imported professors from Europe who brought those ideas, not Aristotle’s Renaissance ideas.

For over two centuries, the anti-reality, anti-reason ideas have been taught to countless graduates who took those ideas into their careers. “You can’t know anything for sure.” “The individual must sacrifice for the many.”

Society’s problem

The problem beneath our other issues in today’s society is the inability or unwillingness to validate ideas using reason and facts of reality, relying instead on things imagined and feelings.

The inability to agree on what “truth” means is causing the polarization and chaos we see today. History shows that societies that abandon reality and reason eventually collapse into totalitarianism.

Technology’s impact

While AI and social media are not the cause, they amplify and accelerate the consequences of ideas in society, either harmful or beneficial.

Algorithms are opinions expressed in code because humans must define what success looks like for the algorithm. We are already seeing the personal philosophies of AI developers in the AI systems that affect us all.

Redeclaration of independence

Born a blank slate, we must learn to reason, which we were not adequately taught. We must understand the knowledge discovered and accumulated in society, much of which is false.

Our society desperately needs New Intellectuals who know how to validate ideas against facts of reality. AI systems must promote the principles our physical nature requires, which America was founded on.

To prevent totalitarianism in America, each of us must consistently ask:

“How does [this particular application of technology] promote objective rather than imagined facts, reason over feelings, self-interest, not self-sacrifice, and political-economic freedom without government control?”

This is our Redeclaration of Independence.

Ahren A. Tiller, Esq.

Ahren Tiller

Founder and Supervising Attorney, Bankruptcy Law Center

To explain why the colonies had decided to separate themselves from Great Britain

The primary purpose of America’s Declaration of Independence was to explain to foreign nations why the colonies had decided to separate themselves from Great Britain.

In 1775, colonists in North America felt overtaxed and needed to fight for their rights as subjects of the Business Crown. Moreover, the colonies could not send representatives to parliament and vote on any issues.

The Declaration listed why the colonists were justified in their efforts to separate themselves from Great Britain. It also stated that if the sovereignty of the United States wasn’t recognized, the colonies were within their rights to revolt against the British soldiers.

To announce the colonies as separate from England

The Preamble section of the Declaration outlines the nation’s general beliefs that justify a rebellion. In this section, the writers clearly mention that the government is there for the people.

When it becomes too destructive and no longer has the best interest of its citizens as the first priority, the people have a full right to abolish it and create a new one.

The writers further mentioned that the decision to end the government is not easy. Still, when there is a long history of abuse of power, it becomes the people’s right and duty to fire the government essentially.

Moreover, to have any hope of defeating Britain, the colonists knew they needed the support of foreign powers, especially France. They could only get this support by declaring themselves a separate nation.

To list the grievances against King George III

In 1775, King George III had denounced the colonies in front of the parliament and had begun preparing his army to crush the rebellion.

Keeping this in mind, another crucial purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to list down the grievances against him. These grievances focus on military concerns, judicial rule, legislation, and protection failure.

Some of these grievances were:

  • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices and the amount and payment of their salaries.
  • He has cut off our Trade with all parts of the world.

Brad Biren, Esq, LL.M.

Brad Biren

Tax and Elder Law Attorney, IQMOP

It is the world’s most venerated ransom note

Most people believe that the Boston Tea Party was a protest in defiance of taxes being too high. It’s actually just the opposite! Within the two months prior, the tax on tea was so low the colonies became the cheapest place outside of Sri Lanka to buy tea leaves.

In fact, the Stamp Act in parliament reduced the levy on tea to the Americas to less than 4% and the removal of any form of income tax analog. But I thought taxes were too high?

A group wrote the Declaration of Independence of pirates and smugglers

Any venture in smuggling only works if there are at least one of two things present:

  • scarcity
  • high cost

Tea was not scarce, and with virtually no tax, it was easier and safer to buy your tea legally. The smugglers were pushed out of business.

Of course, the biggest profiteer and pirate in New England was John Hancock. Reducing taxes meant his entire business evaporated. His good friend, legal advisor, and publisher of the largest newspaper in America at the time, John Adams, helped to fan the flames of rebellion.

The founding fathers were pirates that did not want independence at first

Without any need for smugglers of goods, the founding fathers realized their fortunes would dry up quickly. They did not want independence or a war ⁠— at a minimum, and there was no known standing army to fight for their cause.

As a smuggler, you take what isn’t yours and profit from the difference in tax and market prices. With no tax, there was no room for profit. The tea, thus, had no value (because they stole it ⁠— remember pirates).

So, the Boston Tea Party was really just a way to get rid of old merchandise.

Charles Scholle

Charles Scholle

Atlanta Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorney, Scholle Law

Penned in 1776, the Declaration of Independence constituted three basic ideas:

  1. God created every person equally and gave them a right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
  2. That the government’s sole purpose is to protect these rights.
  3. If the government withholds those rights, citizens are free to protest and create a new government.

It contains the main fabric of American identity

While the document has no legal authority today, it’s still one of the most important papers. It contains the main fabric of American identity, which the country is striving to achieve.

The country’s democratic ideals are ingrained in the Declaration of Independence from the nation’s goals, the reasons why the colonists wanted out of British rule, and their complaints to the British King.

The freedoms expressed in the document are what America is known for worldwide, and in as much as there are some hiccups in achieving the desired equality, there’s been some massive progress since 1776.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

The primary author of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson, a delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress.

However, the document was edited and revised in collaboration with other members of Congress, including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

Jefferson drew inspiration from Enlightenment philosophy and the writings of political thinkers such as John Locke. He was tasked with writing the document by a committee of five, which also included Adams and Franklin.

The committee presented a draft to the full Congress on June 28, 1776, and after several days of debate and revisions, the final version was adopted on July 4.

Did the Declaration of Independence apply to all people living in the colonies?

No, the Declaration of Independence didn’t apply to all people living in the colonies at the time it was written. The document focused primarily on the grievances of white male property owners who sought greater political autonomy and protection of their natural rights.

Women, enslaved people, Native Americans, and others weren’t included in the Declaration’s vision of liberty and equality.

In fact, many of the Declaration’s signers owned slaves themselves, leading some critics to argue that the document’s lofty ideals weren’t fully realized until much later in American history.

Despite these limitations, the Declaration of Independence is considered a key document in the struggle for greater rights and recognition for all people in the United States.

Its principles of natural rights, popular sovereignty, and government by consent have been cited by countless activists and reformers throughout American history as a rallying cry for progress and change.

Where is the Declaration of Independence located?

The original copy of the Declaration of Independence is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It’s stored in a specially designed, climate-controlled case that helps preserve the document for future generations.

In addition to the original copy, several other copies of the Declaration exist, including copies made by John Dunlap, the printer who first printed the document for distribution to the colonies. These copies are housed in various museums and libraries across the country and are considered valuable artifacts of American history.

How did the Declaration of Independence influence other countries?

The Declaration of Independence has had a significant impact on other countries worldwide, particularly in human rights and democracy.

Its principles of individual liberty, natural rights, and government by consent have inspired political movements and revolutions in many other countries, including France, Haiti, and Latin America.

The document’s emphasis on popular sovereignty and the right to rebel against an oppressive government has also influenced political movements in other parts of the world, including Africa and Asia.

Its ideals have been cited by many human rights activists and reformers as evidence of the universal value of human rights and the importance of democracy and self-government.

Overall, the Declaration of Independence is widely recognized as one of the most important political documents in world history, and its influence continues to be felt today in the struggle for human rights, democracy, and freedom around the globe.

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