FOUNDATION: Unit II. What Are Human Rights and Where Do They Come From? 8 of 15

The American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence,
and the Bill of Rights


George III of England

The American Revolution

England’s King George III sought to make his empire more profitable by implementing new economic and land distribution policies that were resented by the American colonists.

The taxes levied on the colonists and the increased repression of their freedoms eventually led to a rebellion. The revolutionaries rallied to the ideology that the freedoms, liberties, and fruits of their labors — to which they had a natural moral right — were being taken away by the English crown.

Engraving after Alonzo Chappel, 1776.
“Drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
The Committee: Franklin, Jefferson, Adams,
Livingston, and Sherman”

The Declaration of Independence

When Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he took ideas directly from John Locke’s Second Treatise, i.e., “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” compared to “life, liberty, and property”. The Declaration stated that:
  • all men are created equal,
  • all men are guaranteed by God a set of unalienable rights,
  • the purpose of government is to safeguard these rights, and
  • the people may change their government if it fails in this regard.

By Howard Chandler Christy.
“Scene at the Signing of the Constitution”

The Bill of Rights

After the colonists won independence, these inalienable rights were further codified in the Bill of Rights — the first ten amendments to the US Constitution (1789).

The Bill of Rights is one of the first translations of moral or philosophical rights into the national laws of a country. The protection of certain individual rights that had been argued by philosophers like Locke and proclaimed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence were thus made part of US law when they were adopted in the Bill of Rights.

In the newly formed United States of America, people were guaranteed certain individual rights by law that the government was obliged to respect and protect. Those rights are still respected and protected today.

What rights does the Bill of Rights protect?

Type your answers below, and then click the SHOW ME button to compare them to the real Bill of Rights.

How do Locke’s three rights (life, liberty, and property) compare to those in the US Declaration of Independence (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness)? How can you quantify these rights?

The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence (pdf file)
The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights (pdf file)