The Declaration of Independence: an analysis of the three persuasive appeals
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused
his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. 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.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Classical rhetoric considers that a speaker or writer has three appeals at his or her disposal: to ethos (the standing of the writer or speaker), to pathos (emotion), and to logos (reason), divided into deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning.
The writers of the Declaration of Independence establish their ethical standing--that they are men of good sense, good character, and good will--first, by acknowledging that they need to explain to the world the reasons for their actions.
The writers follow with a statement of their fundamental beliefs, which become the major premise in a deductive argument.
Major premise: the role of government is to protect the rights of the people; when government fails to do so, the people have the right to change it.
Minor premise: the British government has usurped the rights of the colonists.
Conclusion: the colonists have a right to overthrow that government.
The writers note their prudence; they are cautious, reasonable men.
But logic drives them to conclude that they have no choice but to overthrow a tyrannous government.
What follows in the body of the document is an inductive proof of the minor premise above: a list of ways in which the British government (and especially the King) has stripped the colonists of their rights.
Through most of the document, the writers appeal to pathos through the words they use in their list of the King's wrongs: check out all the negative words in this section of the document.
The emotional language reaches a crescendo in the final paragraphs citing the King's actions.
He has shown "Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages," and he is "totally unworthy [to be] the Head of a civilized nation."
Again, the writers assure the world of their honest efforts to avoid independence. But the King, whose injustices they have just listed, has given them no choice.
The colonists have made every appeal, not only to the King, but to "our Brittish brethren." Again--to no avail. They too "have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity."
In the concluding paragraph, the writers (and signers) of the Declaration appeal to God ("the Supreme Judge of the world") and rely "on the protection of divine Providence." God, they argue, is on their side. Furthermore, they are men willing to pledge "our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor" for the principles enunciated in the declaration.
Thus the writers of the declaration appeal in a most effective way to ethos (they are reasonable and honorable men), pathos (they have proven emphatically the outrages of the King and Parliament), and logos (they state their beliefs and prove that the King has trampled on their rights).
NARA [National Archives and Records Administration. Exhibit Hall. The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription. 21 Oct. 2002. <http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/declaration>.