How the Declaration of Independence became a beacon to the worldRoundup
tags: Declaration of Independence, 4th of July
Charles Edel is a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and previously served on the U.S. Secretary of State's policy planning staff. He is co-author of "The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order."
“The truths of the Declaration of Independence are not limited by time or place,” John Quincy Adams wrote in 1839. “They belong to the nature of man in every age and every clime. They may be subdued, but they can never be suppressed. They are truths at Constantinople and Pekin, at London and Paris, at Charleston and at Philadelphia.” To Adams, the document showed that America was an idea and an ideology as much as it was a place.
The original writers of the Declaration intended to produce a document to reassure Americans of the justness of their cause, and to appeal to potential supporters abroad. But over time, the Declaration of Independence took on a much greater meaning. It was used as an announcement of a new nation’s founding, as a diplomatic appeal for recognition, as a statement of political philosophy and as a call to defend liberty at home and abroad.
Today, as our democracy comes under pressure at home and from hostile actors abroad, the Declaration is as relevant as ever. Not because our times mirror those of 1776 but because they are another step in the continuing evolution of the Declaration’s meaning, both within the United States and across the world.
One of the original purposes of the Declaration was to persuade the 13 colonies about the perilous and necessary undertaking they were about to embark upon, and to affirm what their political revolution was for and what it was against. It was also intended as an international declaration: a diplomatic statement that the citizens of the newly independent United States were not mere rebels, but sovereign actors who had legal claims to independence, diplomatic recognition and material support.
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