The Founding Fathers of America over 200 years ago embarked on a journey to establish a form of administration governed by the rule of law and incurred on individual rights. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptist’s in 1802 are amongst the most important and historical documents of this pivotal moment in the United States. They are enduring documents that played a vital role in shaping the nation’s history and aligning the form of governance in the country. Many scholars have referred to the Declaration of Independence as the promise, while the Constitution becomes the fulfillment of this promise. Thomas Jefferson’s Letter focused on freedom, while the two concentrated on the political and socio-economic lives of Americans. A comparison of the three historical documents concerning the themes, timing, and their importance is critically essential in understanding the roles that they play in the current political environment.
The establishment of the Declaration of Independence was a formal assertion of the emergence of a new form of a revolutionary government in American and signaled an inevitable war Great Britain and its colonies. The primary objective of the document was to provide the necessary assistance to the Second Continental Congress essential in obtaining foreign support for liberation (Puleo, 2016). Therefore, the Declaration of Independence targeted not only the Americans but also the ruling king, the different colonists, as well as the rest of the world. The primary aims of the document were to organize and rally the American troops, establish a common understanding with the foreign allies, and work towards the creation and announcement of a new sovereign nation. In other words, the underlying themes of the Declaration of Independence were geared towards declaring the United States as an independent country from England. It entailed the list of grievances and objections against the King of England that necessitated a call for independence.
In 1787, approximately 11 years after the establishment of the Declaration of Independence of 1776, the congress and a convention wrote and signed the U.S. Constitution (Puleo, 2016). The primary purpose of writing the Constitution was forming a federal government that would act as the administration system. Additionally, the Constitution stipulated the laws of the land essential in the governance system. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution worked towards breaking the administration established by Great Britain and the colonies. The Declaration of Independence paved the way for the termination of all political links initially found between the colonies in America and Great Britain (Puleo, 2016; Martin, 2006)). It also outlined the ideas and underlying principles of a just and fair administration unit. The Constitution, on the other hand, stipulated and drew a roadmap for the functioning of this new form of governance. The two documents were similar in their ultimate goals. They both aimed at establishing a new form of governance in the United States. They also both concentrated on the limitations of the government based on the laws of the land. However, the documents focused more on the economic and sociopolitical environment paying little attention to religion.
Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptist’s in 1802, thus seeks to clarify the issue of the wall of separation and the first amendment. The document came last after the other two. It primarily focused on the freedom of worship and the first amendment. The document is more of an interpretation of the freedom of religion, unlike the other two documents that sought independence from Great Britain (Holowchak, 2016). A critical analysis of Thomas Jefferson’s Letter reveals that the creation and signing of the other two documents had little concerns about the separation of the church and the state. Even though the actual phrases, “separation of the church and state” are missing in the First Amendment, the signers of the establishment appear to be aiming at the segregation of the church from the state. The adoption of the First Amendment in 1791 meant that the establishment applied only to the federal government as it created a wall for its involvement in religion (Holowchak, 2016). It is worth noting that the main focus was separating the church from the state and not religion and politics. The wall or separation closely relates to the biblical concept of separation of God and earthly rules (Martin, 2006). Therefore, Thomas Jefferson’s Letter was critically essential in offering clarification on this misunderstanding.
The establishment of self-governance and breaking away from Great Britain’s administration was the primary factor behind the creation of the documents. The Declaration of Independence document, thus, came first to stir the revolutionary mindset amongst the people preparing them for an imminent change in the administration. The Declaration of Independence came first as it aimed at soliciting both local, regional and international support in the quest for independence, unlike the Constitution that would stipulate the laws of the land after attaining the self-governance (Puleo, 2016).
In a nutshell, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson’s Letter are some of the essential documents in the history and founding of the United States. They are amongst the tools used by the founding fathers in the revolutionary war of breaking from the America’s colonists and establishment of the sovereign state. The documents are similar in that they all focused on seeking self-governance and redefining the levels and limitations of the powers of the government in exercising the laws of the land. However, they differ in the times of establishment, the Declaration of Independence being the first, then the Constitution, and finally, Thomas Jefferson’s Letter. They are also different in terms of their primary goals and focus.
Holowchak, M. A. (2016). Duty to God and duty to man: Jefferson on religion, natural and sectarian. Sophia, 55(2), 237-261.
Martin, G. R. (2006). Prevailing worldviews of western society since 1500. Triangle Publishing.
Puleo, S. (2016). American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address. Macmillan.
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