Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, The Declaration of Independence
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First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, The Declaration of Independence
In this set of activities you will be both paraphrasing and explicating the thesis of several classic texts. You will paraphrase each excerpt section by section, followed by explicating the texts by stating your understanding of each one in your own words, then elaborating, exemplifying and illustrating them. In other words, for each of the texts in this section, you will begin by articulating them in your own words, sentence by sentence, or in parts, as we have presented them. Then you will explicate each one at level two.

After writing out your paraphrases in your own words, and explicating them, click on the thinker icon to see our specimen answers. You will first read the text as a whole at the beginning of each section, along with its background information, and then you will find the same text divided into parts for your practice.

The Declaration of Independence

Background Information:
To make sense of these paragraphs from the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, one must understand that it is part of a political manifesto adopted by the Continental Congress proclaiming the independence of the 13 British colonies in America from Great Britain.

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 nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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 abolish it, and to institute new Government, having its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown 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 invariable 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.

Now that you have read the full text above, you will find the same text in sections below. Write out your paraphrase of each section in the box provided. Then see our specimen answers by clicking on the thinker icon.


When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: “Political” arrangements (forms of government) are not necessarily permanent. It is important sometimes to abolish them and set up new arrangements. When this is true, one group of people have to separate themselves from the group to which they were formerly joined.




...and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s god entitle them...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: No government should dominate any other government, but all should have the same status (be “separate and equal”). The act of a people declaring themselves independent of other peoples (with whom they were formerly connected) is a perfectly natural act based on “the laws of nature.” Therefore the thirteen states are “entitled” by natural law to revolt and declare themselves “separate [from] and equal” to all other countries of the world.




...a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: But when a people decide to break away from another people and establish their own nation, they should — out of respect for the views of other peoples in the world — lay out the reasons that have led them to make their revolutionary decision.




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.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: There are some truths so obvious that everyone should recognize their truth simply by thinking them through. This includes the truth that, all things being equal, every person should be accorded the same basic rights. These rights include the right to not be hurt, harmed, or killed; the right to as much freedom (of thought, of movement, of choice of associates, of belief) as is possible; and the right to live their lives as they please.




That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: The main reason for having a government is to protect our rights to equality, life, liberty, and our own preferred way of living. Governments should have only the power we freely give them to protect our rights. Governments should not rule us; we should rule them.




That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Whenever any government stops protecting our rights (to equality, life, liberty, and our own preferred way of living), we have a right to change that government or end it altogether; for people have an inherent right to revolt against— and overthrow—any government that fails to enhance our quality of life, our equality, our freedom, and our preferred ways of living. If government is really doing its job, we should experience maximum freedom in our lives and a minimum of restrictions. In a well-governed country, laws should be kept to an absolute minimum.




...and to institute new Government, having its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: If we do overthrow a government that is fails to uphold the rights of the people, we should start a new government that is concerned with the safety and happiness of the people.




Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: If we are practical, discreet, and have good judgment, we will not overthrow a government except for important and enduring reasons.




...and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: And, in fact, the whole of human history shows us that people are much more apt to suffer their rights being abused than to revolt against such abuse.




But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariable 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.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: When a government displays a long-standing disregard for the human rights of its own citizens, it is not only the right but also the obligation of such citizens to revolt against the government, and to set up a new one that upholds its natural rights.