American Declaration of Independence

Even young kids can understand the first couple of paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, though some of the words will need to be defined for them. This line in particular resonates with all people regardless of their age, “We hold these truths to 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 . . .” Have your kids memorize this line.

This painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris shows Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson working on the Declaration. They were the committee assigned to write the draft that congress would debate. Thomas Jefferson did most of the actual writing however.  Image in the public domain.

Discussion

Discuss the meaning of this passage with them. Do all people have rights? Why? Did Americans give all people rights at this time? Why not? Though the words in the Declaration are true, America has not always lived up to them.  But because these ideas are the “mission statement” of the United States we keep them in sight and come ever closer.

Why are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness listed as rights? (Jefferson had wanted to list Property instead of Pursuit of Happiness, but didn’t because slaves were considered property and Jefferson found slavery an abhorrent practice.) Where do the rights come from, according to Jefferson? Where else could rights come from? How would that change things?

 Declaration of Independence Explorations

Have your child list their own rights as a child, discuss their list with them, make them defend it and discuss how responsibilities are tied to rights. Kids are very interested in the subject of rights in a world in which it seems they have none.

On a map of the Colonial Americas, mark where Jefferson’s home of Monticello and the city of Philadelphia are. Add photos and captions around the map and make a display of the important places and people surrounding the Declaration of Independence.

Add the signing of the Declaration to a time line of colonial and revolutionary America.

The end of the Declaration says, ” . . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred honor.” Have your kids research the fate of some of the signers of the Declaration.

Make quill pens and use a bottle of ink to write on paper, to see what it was like for Jefferson.

Watch this video of a reading of the Declaration with your kids:

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