Power and The Declaration of Independence


There are many abstractions in the Declaration of Independence. These
abstractions such as: rights, freedom, liberty and happiness have become the
foundations of American society and have helped to shape the "American
Identity." Power, another abstraction that reoccurs in all the major parts of
the Declaration of Independence plays an equally important role in shaping
"America identity." One forgets the abstraction of power, because it appears in
relation to other institutions: the legislature, the King, the earth, and the
military. The abstraction of power sets the tone of the Declaration, and shapes
the colonists conception of government and society. Power in the Declaration of
Independence flows from distinct bodies within society such as the King, the
legislature, the military, and the colonists.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines power as, "the ability to do or
effect something or anything, or to act upon a person or thing" (OED 2536).
Throughout the ages according to the dictionary the word power has connoted
similar meanings. In 1470 the word power meant to have strength and the ability
to do something, "With all thair strang *poweir" (OED 2536) Nearly three hundred
years later in 1785 the word power carried the same meaning of control, strength,
and force, "power to produce an effect, supposes power not to produce it;
otherwise it is not power but necessity" (OED 2536). This definition explains
how the power government or social institutions rests in their ability to
command people, rocks, colonies to do something they otherwise would not do. To
make the people pay taxes. To make the rocks form into a fence. To make the
colonists honor the King. The colonialists adopt this interpretation of power.
They see power as a cruel force that has wedded them to a King who has "a
history of repeated injuries and usurptions." The framers of the Declaration of
Independence also believe powers given by God to the people must not be usurped.
The conflict between these spheres of power the colonists believe, justifies
their rebellion.
The uses of the word power set the tone of the Declaration of
Independence. In the first sentence of the Declaration colonists condemn the
King's violation of powers given by god to all men.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to
dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to
assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which
the Laws of Nature and of natures God Entitle them (Wills 375).

In this passage the writers of the Declaration of Independence are
explaining their moral claim to rebel. This right finds its foundation on their
interpretation of the abstraction of power. Colonists perceive power as
bifurcated, a force the King uses to oppress them, and a force given to them by
God allowing them to rebel. In the Declaration of Independence the colonists
also write about power as a negative force. In the following quote power takes
on a negative meaning because power rests in the hands of the King and not the
people, "to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers,
incapable of Annihilation, have returned" (Wills 376). Power when mentioned in
association with the power of the people to make their own laws has a positive
connotation, "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior
to Civil power" (Wills 377).
These two different uses of the word power transform the meaning and
tone of the Declaration of Independence. The meaning changes from just a
Declaration of independence from Britain because of various violations of tax
laws, military expenditures, and colonists' rights; to a fundamental
disagreement about power. Whether the King or civil authorities have a right to
power. The colonists believe in the decentralization of power. The British
support a centralized monarchy. The colonists believe power should flow up from
the people to the rulers. The British believe power should flow down from the
King to the subjects.
The two different uses of the world power also change the tone of the
document. The colonist's definition of power as coercive in the hands of the
King and good in the hands of civil authorities identifies the King as the enemy.
He takes on the role of the enemy because he clutches the power in pre-colonial
society. The tone of the Declaration of Independence becomes more severe; the
Declarations vilifying of the fundamental power imbalances between the colonies
and the King make the break between the two unbridgeable. The break between the
colonies and the King