A Rhetorical Analysis of the United States Declaration of Independence 

Published 10:20 pm Monday, September 11, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Usa independence day concept with old declaration

Source: Freepik

Sponsored content

Email newsletter signup

There are three models of rhetorical persuasion – ethos, pathos, and logos. The Greek philosopher Aristotle developed the model. To persuade an audience, a speaker has to appeal to their authority, emotions, and logic. Interestingly, the mechanics are still applied in schools today when students write a thesis on the Declaration of Independence. Ethos, in the rhetorical analysis of the Declaration, establishes a speaker’s trustworthiness by underlying their authority or credibility.

In contrast, pathos evokes empathy, sympathy, or other emotional responses to support an argument. Declaration of Independence logos rely on facts, evidence, and sound reasoning to make a persuasive argument. Thomas Jefferson combined these skills to call for separation from tyrannical England. Let us analyze the document to discover more. 

Declaration Of Independence Historical Context 

The only way to understand why the Statement was written is to check the events that led to calls for separation. However, analyzing archives and databases is daunting for any writer. Consider using the Declaration of Independence essay examples on PapersOwl as materials for inspiration if you’re writing a research paper on the Declaration of Independence and find this subject challenging. The free sample papers explore the topic from different angles.

The American colonies adopted the document on July 4, 1776. The aim was to break their relationship with Great Britain. Here is an overview of the factors that contributed to its creation: 

  • By the mid-18th century, the British had ruled the American colonies for over 150 years. Taxation without representation, colonial trade restrictions, and tensions grew during this period. Events like the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and the Stamp Act of 1765 further worsened the relationship. 
  • The Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775 snowballed into the American Revolution or War for Independence. 
  • Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense in early 1776, questioning British rule and monarchy. 
  • Richard Henry Lee of Virginia called for Independence on June 7, 1776. 
  • The committee of five drafted the document.

Rhetorical Appeals 

Take a look at the techniques Jefferson used to persuade the audience to accept his message:

Ethos in the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson earned respect by explaining the reasons for the colonies’ actions. In the first paragraph, he stated examples of ethos that “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands” and “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Prominent figures who signed the document further strengthened the Declaration’s claims. In the second paragraph, he opined that humans bore equal and unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Pathos in the Declaration of Independence 

The text included special language that evoked strong emotions. Before listing the grievances, it’s stated, “Let facts be submitted to a candid world.” Then, he detailed the hardships colonists endured and described the British actions as “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” Others are: 

  • Taxation without representation.
  • Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Absolutism and despotism. 

Logos in the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson affirmed that the colonists had tried to appeal to the king and “our British brethren.” To show humility and respect. The document followed a logical progression: 

  • Purpose of independence. 
  • List of grievances. 
  • Conclusion with a formal Declaration of Independence. 

Legacy and Influence

The Declaration has a lasting legacy in American History. They include: 

  • The foundational document of democracy
  • Incorporation in the U.S. Constitution and legal systems. 
  • Symbol of American identity.
  • Human rights protection. 
  • Democratic movement expansion. 

Criticism and Controversy 

The Declaration faced many criticisms despite its well-meaning design. For example, “equality and unalienable rights” did not address racial inequality and slavery. Other controversies attached to the effect of the Declaration of Independence are: 

  • Exclusion of women. 
  • Native American displacement. 
  • Non-property owner exclusion. 
  • Selective interpretation. 

The Impact of the American Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is the philosophical foundation of American democracy. The writer used statements with moral, ethical, and legal overtones to answer the question, Why separation? To create a vivid picture, they wrote, “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.” Beyond emotions, the drafters interwove logic into every argument to describe the relationship between the two countries. Jefferson’s use of persuasive syntax and dictionaries made the document so appealing. It went on to serve as a role model for countries like France and women experiencing similar conflicts.