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The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 to encourage the people of the world to support and join the movement of separation of the thirteen American colonies from Britain. The document contains information and reasons for the separation, including the multiple ways in which the Americans were wronged by the British Monarch, their past approaches towards the subject, and the current manner in which they are to resolve the issue. The authors interests and persuades his audience using the three rhetorical appeals: suggesting logical facts with Logos, triggering emotional empathy with Pathos, and establishing his authority and reliability with Ethos.
The rhetorical appeal Logos is repeatedly applied throughout the Declaration of Independence, providing reasonable argumentation for the main purpose of the document. In the beginning, it is mentioned that: “We hold these truths to be 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
This introduces the political situation in which the role of the government is to protect the rights of the people, and when it fails to do so it is the people’s duty to diminish it and pass the power onto a new, improved government. The subtly included argument here is that the British government takes away that right with which the people select their government and does not consider their assessment and beliefs. The diction in the beginning of the paragraph, or more precisely the words “self-evident”, compel the audience to believe that this is a rational, reasonable statement which does not require further elaboration, leading to the conclusion that the Colonists have the freedom to overthrow the government.
This is further supported when the author mentions the “long train of abuses and usurpations” and “absolute Despotism” to which the Colonists have been subjected, and when it’s repeated that “…it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Finally, the relation between the Colonists and the British Monarchy is directly declared with the words “Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.” All of these previously mentioned quotes appeal to the readers as veritable, encouraging them to accept the topic without hesitation.
The emotional appeal, Pathos, is abundant in the Declaration of Independence with the goal to impact the 13 colonies sentimentally, and to gain the sympathy and empathy of the British and other foreign people. It can be first noticed in the document by the phrases “abuse and usurpations”, “absolute Despotism”, “repeated injuries and usurpations”, and “absolute tyranny”. The negative diction about the King of Britain and his unjust actions emphasizes the damage that has been done to the colonies, and the traumas that they have been caused.
The words are strong and persuasive, provoking sympathy and pity to the foreigners, and motivating the colonists to stand up against the force that has been maltreating them. Other examples of emotionally triggering diction include “tyrants”, “invasions”, “murders”, “harass”, and many more that are spread throughout the whole document. Another way in which Pathos is used are the multiple examples of the ways in which the King has wronged the colonies, in other words the grievances, which make up a large part of the Declaration of Independence. Some of them include economical and lawful issues, for example:
“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.” While others contain issues with the safety and general treatment: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”
However, the mentioned actions combined with the used diction are a great device for triggering emotions and evoking empathy from foreigners and animosity from colonists.
The third rhetorical appeal, Ethos, is used to make the audience believe that the author is trustworthy and reasonable, and his words and opinions should not be questioned. This is made easier for Thomas Jefferson by the fact that he was a well known as a reliable person during his life, and whenever his opinions are mentioned throughout the text it enhances the strong factual and truthful impression. An example for this is the following quote:
“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity.”
Besides that, he at times indirectly remarks his rationality and reason, with carefully chosen words like “Prudence”, with which he indicates that he is a cautious man, and “a candid world”, indicating what he aims towards. Also, another thing that grants him credibility is the fact that he shows that he has a lot of knowledge about past events in the attempt to acquire more rights for the oppressed colonies by mentioned the multiple times that they have reached out to the British government and have received punishments for that as a reply.
Furthermore, In the concluding paragraph, the writer of the Declaration appeals to God, “the Supreme Judge of the world”, and rely “on the protection of divine Providence.” All of the previously mentioned quotes, words, and opinions intensify the readers’ belief in what the document is saying because they trust the writer’s reliability and credibility.
In the end, it can be concluded from the numerous examples that are already mentioned and the current liberal state of the now fifty United States of America that the three rhetorical appeals, Logos, Pathos, and Ethos, used by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence were of great help in persuading the audience that the colonies could acquire their rights in a peaceful way, and therefore a separation from Britain had become a necessity.
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