The Declaration of Independence was written in order to clarify and justify the actions of The Second Continental Congress, which was to assume the powers of an offical government. The colonists' saw themselves as Englishmen, with all the rights of Englishmen. However, after numerous usurptions the colonists contested the violations of the Parliament based upon English liberty. The Declaration of Independence combined purpose with principle. In June 1776 the Congress of the united colonies appointed five delegates to produce a formal written declaration of independence, after several weeks Thomas Jefferson completed the draft.It was written to King George III and the world to read. Think about it, a public statement affirming the tyranny of the English King and a testament to the hypocrisy of the English Parliament.
It had three purposes;
1. a theory of government
2. a list of complaints
3. a declaration of war
Jefferson also included principles of 'Enlightment' thought
1. 'all men are created equal'
2. born with inalienable rights from the God, not the king among them 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' (Jefferson clearly bases this statement on John Locke's, Life, Liberty, Property theory)
3. Governments are instituted among men, not the other way around, thus the notion of the 'consent of the governed'
4. If a government did not act on behalf of the people, the people had a right to abolish or alter the government to their just needs
Here's a short video explaining the creation and significance of the Declaration of Independence:
The List of Grievances
The Body of the Document: The Declaration's introduction states the philosophy upon which the colonies' decision to rebel is based. The body of the document lists the specific grievances of the colonies against the British government--the evidence. The British government's infringement upon the colonists' God given rights include preventing the passing of laws that promote the common good, calling legislative assemblies at places designed to prevent colonial leaders from attending, the dissolution of representative bodies of governments, the presence of standing armies in times of peace, the harassment of colonists by British officials, establishing unfair trade laws, denying colonists a fair trial, waging war against the colonies, and the impressment of American sailors into the British Navy.
In addition to the list of grievances, Jefferson and his committee assert that the colonists have repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with their treatment and that the British have done nothing about it.
Interpretation: It's important to remember that the Declaration's primary audience was not King George, but the world. In order to make their cause just, enlist the help of foreign powers, and win the sympathy of British commoners, the document's writers needed to clearly state their cause and clearly state King George's misdeeds. Jefferson understood this well. His original draft includes several more grievances than the final copy, many of which were obscure and unknown even to the most ardent supporters of American Independence.*
*For an excellent treatment on the origins of the Declaration, check out Pauline Maier's outstanding work.