Aristotle drew a distinction between “accident” and “essence.”

“Accident” would include the specifics of how a thing appears in this world in a particular instance. You, for example, appear as male or female, of a given age and physical description, having a particular ancestry and personal history, etc.

“Essence” would be the person-ness, human-ness, or God-given “you-ness” of you.

Those definitions could stand some fussing over, but you get the idea.

I’d say the things we usually think of in relation to our Declaration of Independence are the “accidents” – focused largely on the behavior of King George.

What was the essence of The Declaration? What were we “REALLY” trying to free ourselves from?

I don’t think it was about the British per se; it was not a racial thing. “Taxation without representation”? Yes. But why? Imprisonment away from one’s home country, without clear and true reasons, without a fair and effective trial? Yes, but why?


Here are some excerpts from the original Declaration (a scan of which can be seen at ushistory.org). I have added some outlining and some emphases.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America …

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 …

That right to reject a destructive government surely (in “essence”) applies to alteration or removal of a corrupt and dangerous Administration.

all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

Does that sound familiar or what? “Signing Statements” anyone?

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us … We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.

In today’s case, it seems our “legislature” (Senators and Congresspersons) and “King” feel a much lessened obligation to those abstract or quaint notions of justice, nor are they moved to try to protect us from an encroaching executive by the fact of our shared heritage and citizenship.

“Essence” – “accidents.” I believe the essence of independence is very much under threat today.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Sounds like it was pretty serious. In fact, Ben Franklin made a remark to the effect that they had better all hang together, or surely they would all hang separately. Is it getting that serious again?

[See also “Declaration of Independence – Kids’ Version”.