Declaration of Independence vs. Declaration of Sentiments

American culture has long been dominated by the ideas of freedom and liberty. The United States has always prided itself on being the land of the free; a place where citizens have unalienable rights, can pursue happiness, and are free from unjust oppression. Although America has long held fast to the idea of freedom, it has found that freedom may play more into the ideal culture rather than the real culture. U.S. history has been blemished by unjust oppression and struggles for freedom. The country’s founding fathers paved the way for freedom when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, but even after America’s democratic ideas were determined and written down, freedom was still not granted to all citizens. Women have faced many impediments in their pursuit for freedom. Women were not fighting for freedom from Britain; they were fighting for freedom in their own country. When Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, she used the Declaration of Independence as a framework. Freedom was still freedom, but the idea of it was used for a purpose different from that of the founding fathers. The historical context had changed, and with it, the idea of freedom. The Declaration of Sentiments demonstrates not only the American beliefs in freedom and liberty, but also that the interpretation of these beliefs can change and be reused for different purposes.
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Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in order to derive a sense of sympathy and to develop connections between women and the rest of the American public, followed the style and wording of the Declaration of Independence closely. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton edited this same sentence to say that all men and women are created equal. Whereas the Declaration of Independence outlines the “patient sufferance of the colonies”, the Declaration of Sentiments outlines the “patient sufferance of women under this government.” The Declaration of Independence aims its grievances at the King of England and addresses him by saying things such as “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice” and “He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly.” The Declaration of Sentiments uses this same style, but the “He” is not used to address the King, but male oppressors. The Declaration of Sentiments mimics the style used in the Declaration of Independence to highlight the fact that women are American citizens. Although the style remains constant in the two documents, the expression of American freedom in the Declaration of Sentiments differs from the expression of American freedom in the Declaration of Independence.
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While the drafters of the Declaration of Independence were concerned with political freedom, Stanton was concerned with the idea of marital freedom. In the Declaration of Sentiments, the husband is described as the woman’s master-“the law giving him power to deprive her of liberty”. Stanton also writes, “He has made her, if married, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead.” Times had changed. Citizens were no longer being oppressed by the British monarch; they were being oppressed by their husbands. Elizabeth Cady Stanton focused intently on the married woman’s right to divorce and have custody of her children (Lewis). She portrays marital equivalence as a basic American freedom.
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Women were defined by their relationships to men as wives, sisters, and mothers and therefore could not represent themselves in an independent manner. Barbara Welter explains that women were to abide by “four cardinal virtues-piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity”, not assertiveness, independence, and the desire to represent themselves independently (Horwitz, 71). The fact that women could not be freely represented led Stanton to include in the Declaration of Sentiments that women had the right to be represented independent of a man in society. Thomas Jefferson harps on the idea of no taxation without fair representation in the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps it can be stated that Stanton harps on the idea of representation without a male in the Declaration of Sentiments.
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Both the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Sentiments hold integrity and respect to be key elements of freedom and liberty. Although they both view integrity and respect as essential elements, they take different approaches to defining integrity and freedom. The Declaration of Independence holds that respect and integrity are trampled upon by taxation without fair representation and keeping “in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislators”. The Declaration of Sentiments holds that respect and integrity are trampled upon by keeping women from equal access to college and profitable jobs. Whereas the Declaration of Independence maintains that viewing citizens as subordinate to the king is a violation of fundamental freedom, the Declaration of Sentiments maintains that viewing women as subordinate to men violates freedom. Stanton writes in the Declaration of Sentiments, “He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man”. It is obvious that the Declaration of Sentiments views gender equality as a key concept to freedom whereas the Declaration of Independence views political equality to be a key concept.
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As historical context changes, the ideas of freedom and liberty change. Freedom and liberty will always be freedom and liberty, but nonetheless are left open to interpretation. The Declaration of Independence was written during a time when freedom meant political justice and insubordination to the British King. The Declaration of Sentiments was written during a time when freedom meant equality among genders. By comparing the Declaration of Independence and Declaration of Sentiments, it is obvious that the ideas of freedom and liberty are dynamic and left to the interpretation of the culture.
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Works Cited

Horwitz, Richard P. Ed. The American Studies Anthology. Oxford: SR Books, 2001. 71.

Lewis, Jone John. "women's History." About.com. 17 Sept. 2007. <http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/blstanton.htm>.

Author: Hannah Thompson

Student - International Studies

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