The Argument of the Declaration of Independence

Long before the first shot was fired, the American Revolution began as a series of written complaints to colonial governors and representatives in England over the rights of the colonists.

In fact, a list of grievances comprises the longest section of the Declaration of Independence. The organization of the Declaration of Independence reflects what has come to be known as the classic structure of argument—that is, an organizational model for laying out the premises and the supporting evidence, the contexts and the claims for argument.

According to its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration was intended to be a model of political argument. On its 50th anniversary, Jefferson wrote that the object of the Declaration was “[n]ot to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.”

Capitalize on your students’ propensity to complain by introducing them to the elements of a good argument. In this lesson, students attempt to formulate their own declaration before examining the Declaration of Independence. Through a close reading of the document, they come to an understanding of how its structure forms a coherent, lucid, and powerful argument for independence.

College and Career Readiness Standards
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Guiding Questions

What kind of a document is the Declaration of Independence?

How do the parts and structure of the document make for a good argument about the necessity of independence?

Learning Objectives

Describe and list the parts of the Declaration of Independence and explain the basic purpose for the argument as a whole 

List and explain one or more of the colonists' complaints included in the Declaration 

Demonstrate an awareness of the Declaration of Independence as a historical argument developed to assert the necessity of political independence

List and explain some of the key elements of a good argument