Social Contract in The Declaration of Independence

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The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important texts in American history. It is a document that claims national sovereignty and states the case for an independent nation. This important document reflects the Social Contract, an agreement that all citizens have with their government, where citizens agree to follow certain rules and uphold certain values in exchange for protection. The document also portrays the idea of the social contract or social cohesion. It is a way of uniting a society through shared values and common goals. Therefore, understanding the Declaration of Independence requires understanding the social contract and its role in the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was written by a committee that included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin (Pulos, 2021). The document includes many ideas influenced by enlightenment ideals, such as reason, rationalism, and democracy. Thus, the Social Contract is a philosophical idea that acts as a uniting force in the Declaration of Independence. Since every citizen deserves to live peacefully, the Social Contract in the Declaration of Independence guarantees equality and freedom for all, which is acceptable even if freedom is subject to the law in the constitution.

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Equality, Liberty, and Responsibility

The social contract is one of the most critical ideas in the Declaration of Independence. It represents a commitment by all citizens to accept and uphold the rights, responsibilities, and freedoms presented in the document. The framers structured it as a social contract that creates cooperation between free citizens by creating a system for ordering society based on each citizen’s responsibilities to themselves and others (Verschoor, 2018). The Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” or “that all men are created equal” (Garner, 2021). This statement reflects that all people are equal and must uphold their responsibilities. Also, all men are given the privilege to pursue their own goals as long as they do not infringe upon others’ rights. In this document section, the Declaration refers to all people as “We the People,” which easily represents a union among citizens. This rhetoric shows that all people must work together to benefit themselves. Each person is given a limited amount of liberty to pursue their goals and aspirations within the boundaries of the law (Kymlicka, 2017). It is also stated that everyone is held responsible for their actions and should be punished accordingly. This is a common theme in the Declaration, as it holds all people accountable for their actions, provides punishment to those who break the law, and encourages respect by requiring allegiance or obedience from others.

The Natural Law

John Locke was an important figure in the philosophy of the social contract; his ideas are reflected in the Declaration. Hobbes and Locke’s writings on natural law and rights greatly influenced the writers of the Declaration (Wright & Pearson, 2017). The birth of a new country is when many new concepts, such as independence and freedom, are established. The government must create a free society that can work together and prosper. One such issue is equality since few people believe themselves inferior or superior to others. The framers of the Declaration and the first constitution could have easily decided that certain people were more capable than others. Instead, they chose to treat everyone equally by stating that all men were created equal. This statement created an equal ground for all citizens; therefore, all citizens had the same rights and obligations toward society.

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Equality is the foundation of a government, and in the Declaration, this is exemplified by equality in rights. All citizens have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (Jefferson, 2021). According to Lockean philosophy, all men are treated as equals under the law. It is important to note that equality does not mean that everyone has the same amount of wealth or power; it only means that everyone has an equal right to be free from any form of laws based on wealth or ability. The Declaration further states that all men are created equal because they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” (Yevchak, 2017). This statement says that all people are equal because they were given the same rights by The Almighty. At this time in history, religion played a large role in politics and daily life. Therefore, by saying that all people are equal because they received the same rights from God, the root of inequality was eliminated as a source of inequality. Equality and freedom can be further seen as one idea since equality is also a source of freedom. For example, since all people are equal, they are free to make decisions and fulfill their goals without fear of being treated differently than others. The Declaration’s claim that those who govern must derive their authority from the consent of the governed echoes Rousseau’s social contract theory.

Conclusion

Because every citizen deserves to live peacefully, the Social Contract in the Declaration of Independence guarantees equality and freedom for all. This is acceptable even if freedom is subject to the law in the constitution. This statement was a vital example of ideas and philosophies of the Enlightenment era incorporated into the Declaration. The document incorporates social contract theories that include beliefs in liberty, equality, and respect. It illustrates this by showing that a new society must be created as a country is born. Through these ideas in the Social Contract, the authors realized they agreed to be united as a people for their benefit and safety, but most importantly, for each other.

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  1. Garner, B. (2021). July 4th is Still a Call to Action. Journal of Veterans Studies7(1).
  2. Jefferson, T. (2021). The Declaration of Independence of The United States of America. Prabhat Prakashan. http://doi.org/10.21061/jvs.v7i1.282
  3. Kymlicka, W. (2017). Liberal individualism and liberal neutrality. John Rawls, 235-258. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.1086/293125
  4. Pulos, A. J. (2021). The Search for Identity. American Design Ethic, PubPub. https://doi.org/10.1162/a8667414.257b6c0b
  5. Verschoor, M. (2018). The democratic boundary problem and social contract theory. European Journal of Political Theory17(1), 3-22. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474885115572922
  6. Wright Jr, B. F., & Pearson Jr, S. A. (2017). American Interpretations of Natural Law: A Study in the History of Political Thought. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315082622
  7. Yevchak, R. A. (2017). After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Values. The Incarnate Word4(1), 192-197. https://doi.org/10.5840/tiw2017416
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