The Declaration of Independence (1776) and The Declaration of Sentiments (1848) are two very iconic documents in America. Both documents describe the need for change in the various systems of the nation by describing the prevailing shortcomings. Ideally, both documents were meant to evoke the ‘power of the people’ and in this way, set off a spiral of progressive change. While the documents present weaknesses in the existing systems two different perspectives (that of women and the general public)the concerns raised are fairly presented in both cases, as described in this essay.
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Declaration of Independence was ratified on the 4th of July 1776 and contains a total of 56 signatories. The document is the basis of the formation of the United States of America as it provides an outline of a combination of the philosophical, practical and socio-political reasons why America deserves independence from Great Britain (Gerber 1). The document opens with an introductory section in which the importance thereof is explained. Further, the write up includes rationales that explain why the colonies had overthrown the incumbent colonial governments and paraded themselves as individual nations.
All men are equal and governments should be designed in such a way that they can provide equal rights and liberties to the subjects some of these rights are right to liberty, right to life and right to pursue happiness. A government that fails to safeguard these rights is not fit to rule and must hence come to naught by the hands of the people (Wills 3). Governments are rarely overthrown as trivial reasons are not sufficient for such actions; in America’s case, a history of abuses pushed the colonists into overthrowing the existing government. According to the Declaration, the King was in the least concerned about the rights and wishes of his subjects but made decisions that would serve his best interests. Some of these allegations are described as the failure to “assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for public good” and “taking away” charters and “altering” America’s political atmosphere (Gerber 1). While the document begins by listing the particular mistakes of King George III, it eventually transcends into a wide range of allegations that would readily apply to other British colonies. This was purposefully done to inspire these colonies to fight for a new greater course.
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Economic limitations are also mentioned in the Declaration as the “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world, for imposing taxes on us without our consent.” The concluding section also mentions that 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.” (“The Declaration of Independence: Full Text”) Thus, the document’s content makes it clear that America was in dire need for in terms of her economy to ensure that the interests of the majority are well-guarded. This is especially because the British were exploiting America’s resources and maximizing profits for their people at all costs. Thus, in looking into individual rights, the Declaration sought to encourage freedom and autonomy at the level of the state.
The power of the people is also an important element in the Declaration of Independence. The people are expected to “provide new guards for their future security.” (US History 1) However, this statement is highly ambiguous as the form of guard expected from the people is not extensively explained. Such ambiguity was probably an intentional move to allow the various states to form suitable interpretations on the issue and hence intensify the push for freedom in the long run. Ideally, the colonies were not a single unified nation but rather a group of individual nations united by a common purpose. Again, we see that the Declaration was also meant to inspire other British colonies to pursue freedom from the incumbent tyrannical government and to empower them against any future forms of political oppression.
The Declaration of Sentiments is attributed to Elizabeth Cady Stanton who, together with Lucretia Mott led the first national convention for women’s rights in the United States. Elizabeth was a leading member of the early movement for women’s rights. She was thus an inspiration for many women as she encouraged them to challenge the conditions that limited them in terms of social, political and economic potential. The Declaration of 1848 postulates that it is only “he” who is at liberty to make the laws that women must follow (Declaration of Sentiments), adding a sense of urgency to the need for gender equity in a world dominated by males. Although America had successfully kicked out the colonialists in 1776, there were still inequalities that lingered among the people; Stanton was particularly unhappy with the position of the woman in her society.
The nature of the message within Stanton’s declaration is designed to generate emotional appeal among women. For instance when she states that, “the history of mankind is one of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her,” (Declaration of Sentiments) she encourages women to reflect on the existing imbalances in the gender scale. Such intentional wording enables different women to redefine their position in society based on their present predicament. While it may seem that the message was designed to appeal to American women, there are many aspects of universality in the write-up. For instance law, marriage, employment and moral guidelines are all part of life among women globally. Evidently, Elizabeth intends to generate positive influences in the socio-political and economic norms from America to the world.
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According to the Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 (1) , the Declaration presents a list of the inequalities facing women such as the lack of liberty to vote, the obligation to obey laws they cannot participate in making, fewer rights for women than their male counterparts andwomen susceptibility to exploitation due to lack of voting rights.Even in marriage, the woman had no rights to own property and in case of divorce sets in, women could not opine on who could rightfully raise the children. Men exercised full dominance over their wives,women could not venture into higher education and could only work in low-paying careers.There were also sharp differences in the moral standards for men and women
Judging from the above grievances, Stanton’s Declaration acted as a platform through which change was initiated to accommodate women and balance the scales between males and females in all spheres of society. The modern world does not involve such adverse inequalities between men and women; in fact all the above mentioned aspects do not apply on a global scale. Where there are existing discrepancies, the international community constantly works towards educating those involved on there need to embrace modern civilization.
The Declaration of Sentiments is historically significant as it marked the very first occasion in which women were able to gather in an organized revolution and fight for gender equity. While it was met with a lot of criticism, the Declaration it was a catalyst for the fight against the oppression of women on a global scale. Many institutions were redefined as many laws had to change to meet the new pressing needs of the woman.
As described above fair presentation of facts is evident in both The Declaration of Sentiments and The Declaration of Independence. For instance, the wording of both documents presents historical shortcoming of the incumbent systems. Based on the ongoing push for gender equity, the Declaration of Sentiments provides agreeable truths and enables the reader to assess how far America has come. On the same vein, The Declaration of Independence reveals the circumstances and realities that brought America to independence.
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- Gerber, Scott D. “Liberal Originalism: The Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Interpretation.” Clev. St. L. Rev. 63 (2014): 1.
- “The Declaration of Independence: Full Text.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/.
- Wills, Garry. Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.Vintage, 2018.
- Declaration of Sentiments.1848 Declaration of Sentiments. 2018. Retrieved from http://www.womensrightsfriends.org/pdfs/1848_declaration_of_sentiments.pdf