Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson

Intention: The intention of this essay was for Jefferson to express the wrongdoings of King George to the colonists, and how those wrongdoings have forced the colonists to break away from England.

Rhetorical Triangle:

Speaker: Thomas Jefferson is representing the colonists in an effort to express         their grievances with King George.

Audience: This essay is directed towards King George, the wrongdoer, and Great Britain as well.

Tone: Because Jefferson is addressing the King, he utilizes a very refined tone. He uses logos by discussing specific issues the colonists have with the King. In doing this, Jefferson is very organized and sounds like a person educated on the issues he’s discussing. He discusses these issues passionately, and utilizes language that calls attention to the “history of repeated injuries and usurpations” between the colonists and the British empire.

Context: This very important historical document was written during a time in which the colonists were outraged by Great Britain’s actions towards the colonies, and addresses these outrages. The document calls for a break between England and the colonists, leading to the Revolutionary War.

Subject: The subject of this essay is the colonists reasons for breaking away from English rule. These reasons will explain the author’s intention of informing Britain that the colonists will be breaking away from its rule.

Favorite Quote:

“A prince whose character thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be a ruler of free people.”

–Sarah Braunstein

Also, the intention of The Declaration of Independence is to display the inalienable rights of all citizens to those unsure of the split from the power of King George.

Jefferson uses the appeal to pathos in the second paragraph when he writes, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from equal creation the derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, liberty, and the spirit of happiness…”  This would emotionally appeal to the audience because it would allow them to realize that they are entitled to those three rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  This also would persuade the audience to realize that their fellow citizens share those same ideals.

The appeal to logos is heavily used in The Declaration of Independence, when Jefferson lists the actions of King George that were morally corrupt.  This persuades the audience to agree that all of the evil actions of the King were not in favor of the citizens of the colonies, only in favor of the King himself.  This would further convince the people of America to cut all ties from England and claim their independence.

Because he is talking to Congress, Jefferson uses a very civilized and professional tone in The Declaration of Independence.  His tone connects to his use of ethos.  Due to his professional tone, his audience more likely trusts and believes his statements.  This further adds credibility to Jefferson, a man already with a accomplished education.

–Maria Schroeder

Jefferson begins the Declaration by claiming that the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” entitled the colonists to separate from England. In saying this, Jefferson surreptitiously undermines the authority of the King of Britain and gives his following claims and declaration credibility, establishing ethos. The King was obviously against the separation of the colonists and believed it to be rebellion and betrayal. However, by claiming that a higher power gave the colonists the authority to separate because it was just, Jefferson is therefore claiming that a higher power exists and has precedence over the King. And this higher power therefore found the King and Britain to be at fault, granting the colonists separation. Because this higher power found the colonists deserving of separation, the Declaration is validated and given credibility and authority.

Throughout the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson uses pronouns like “us” and “our” and “we” when referring to the colonists, excluding King George and England. In contrast, Jefferson refers to the King mostly as “he,” rarely referring to his title or name. Jefferson even refers to the colonists as “one people” and the British citizens as “another”. In doing so, Jefferson plainly shows the separation between the colonists and Britain. The colonists are no longer unified under the King, they are unified under their Declaration. And the king is simply a separate entity with no power or influence over the united colonists and their new nation.

“A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” This is my favorite quote of the piece because it completely encapsulates the message of the colonists in one line. Jefferson had previously laid out the grievances made by the King and is now summing up the reason for the colonists’ separation. The quote establishes that the colonists are indeed free people deserving of a fit ruler, which Jefferson just proved King George was not. And the message of the quote cannot be argued with: a tyrant, which King George behaves as, cannot and does not rule over free people like the colonists. It would defy the definition of what a tyrant even is.

— Olivia Hatch

Thomas Jefferson uses pathos throughout the Declaration by using clearly stated examples that, through use of strong negative adjectives, Jefferson frames to be unforgivable encroachments on the colonists’ way of life. After reading his long list of King George’s deplorable acts, audience members were to assume that the only logical course of action would to be seceding from the British Empire before King George could violate their rights again. His words inspire rage, distrust for the empire, and plants the seeds of courage for a revolution in his readers.

The Declaration is meant to persuade the colonists to revolt and rally behind the revolution. It literally declares their independence as a political document, inadvertently declares war on the British, and off-handedly declares to King George his subjects’ feelings: that he has failed them as a ruler so much so that they are forced to remove themselves from his domain. Jefferson relied on the audience’s memory of news stories, gossip, or personal experiences of King George’s tyranny as the foundation of the Declaration upon which he lists intolerable acts which may have been unknown by the reader.

My favorite quote in the Declaration of Independence did not come from the Declaration of Independence. Rather, it came from Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration. This quote was removed from the final copy to persuade the Southern states to vote in the continental congress to declare independence. The quote reads: “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. His piractical warfare, the opprobium of infidel [sic] powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN [sic] king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN [sic] should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against lives of another.” This powerful, moving statement begs the question: How could the young man who wrote this passionate argument against slavery morph into the old man who not only bought, sold, and owned slaves himself, but enslaved and sold many of his illegitimate children with his house slave, Sally Hemmings? How could a man who so ardently opposed slavery eventually become its greatest defender? These are the questions that can’t be answered by historical evidence, yet, are some of the greatest questions on our nation’s founding.

–Tay Sauer

While the intention of the Declaration of Independence was to establish the colonies as a free country, the document itself was more symbolic. King George was not likely to read an essay detailing his failings, and the Declaration was directed more towards the rest of the world. The audience affects the style, and since King George is not really the audience, Jefferson has no qualms about blatantly insulting him.

Although Thomas Jefferson did not actually write the Constitution or contribute to it in any way because he was in France, a lot of the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence made their way into the Constitution. For example, many of the tyrannic actions of King George are later protected against in the Constitution. Jefferson talks about the British failure to hold fair trials, the dissolution of the colonial legislative bodies, quartering of soldiers, taxation without representation, and inhibition of laws benefiting the colonists in any way. These themes’ recurrence in the Constitution proves how much of an impact the Declaration had on the course of history.

Jefferson even includes a reference to Machiavelli (that sly dog) with the line, “the prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant.” Throughout the rest of the essay, King George III is referred to as “king.” This subtle reference appeals to educated people and builds Jefferson’s ethos.

–Rachel Meyer


Jefferson uses syllogism in the invention of his piece, “The Declaration of Independence” as a means of justification for revolution in the colonies. He states the major premise, that the people have a right to overthrow an unfair government, then moves to the minor premise, that King George is unfairly ruling over the colonies, and concludes that the American people have a right to independence. It is a simple rhetorical device, but the idea itself that Jefferson presented was crazily unorthodox.

Jefferson frequently references God, whether he refers to the Creator or Divine Providence, to build his ethos. By claiming that God Himself entitles the people to freedom, Jefferson can then continue to justify why this call for freedom is so important.

Although a common occurrence at the time, Jefferson’s seemingly random capitalization is something that stands out to modern readers. He doesn’t seem to follow any rules in standard capitalizing, but rather capitalizes nouns he feels are important to emphasize. His delivery is obviously a print medium, but his use of capitalization draws the reader what Jefferson feels is important.

—Maria Busken



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