On July 4, 1776, the Philadelphia Congress approved a document that would drastically change the course of history. The Declaration of Independence was used to rally the colonists and to convince foreign countries to assist the United States of America in their battle for freedom. The wording and style of the Declaration of Independence made it a masterpiece of propaganda. The Declaration of Independence was, in many parts, ambiguous.
Ambiguity can make it more difficult to refute statements because you must first identify the specifics before you can argue against it. Consider the eighteenth grievance, which said “For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury.” This grievance claims that the British took away trial by jury “in many cases,” but does not state any specific cases, therefore making it much more difficult to refute. The ambiguity of the eighteenth grievance made the complaint seem worse than it was. It states: “He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly.” It used the word “repeatedly,” but it didn’t give any examples of when or which representative houses had been dissolved. The lack of specifics made it seem as though it was a common occurrence.
Many parts of the Declaration of Independence were purposely exaggerated to create propaganda. A good example is the first grievance. It says “He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary to the public good.” This grievance concerns the use of the royal veto. Although the Americans didn’t like this British control over their laws, the royal veto was not used that often. Out of 8, 563 laws, the royal veto was used only 469 times.
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It was mostly used in cases where the American laws conflicted with British laws and policies already in existence. (1) In grievance ten it states: “He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officer to harass our people and eat out their substance.” This refers to the customs posts that were set up in the colonies to control smuggling and enforce the Navigation Laws. The idea that about fifty British officers in America, compared to the millions of colonists, were eating out the substance of the people was a ridiculous exaggeration. (2) This grievance would hardly be worth the paper it was written on if it had not been exaggerated.
The Americans would be laughed at for complaining about a few British officers trying to control illegal activities. Instead they hid the trivial complaint by exaggerating the truth. Descriptive and extremely emotional words were used in the last five grievances. The twenty-fourth grievance is a good example. The use of the action verbs plundered, ravaged, burned and destroyed aroused emotions. The words death, desolation, tyranny, cruelty, and perfidy in the next grievance created an adverse feeling towards King George III.
The style of writing in these final grievances was excellent propaganda because it used vivid descriptions to fuel hostile sentiments among the Americans and encourage empathy for the colonies in foreign countries. The way the Declaration of Independence was written made it extremely convincing propaganda. The grievances were purposely ambiguous and exaggerated to prove that King George III was trying to establish a tyranny over the colonies. It used emotions to propagate sympathy for the colonies and to unite Americans.
It could not have been written any better as a piece of propaganda. 1. Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, The American Pageant, (Lexington: D. C.
Heath and Company, 1994), p. 122. 2. Stephen E.
Lucas, The Stylistic Artistry of the Declaration of Independence, (National Archives and Records Administration Online Exhibit Hall: web c 1989), p. 9.
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