Photo and story by Daniel Shaw-Remeta / Contributing Writer
John Vile, the dean of MTSU’s Honors College, provided a lecture about the Declaration of Independence and “American ideals” inside the Simmons Amphitheater of the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building on Monday. The lecture was a part of the spring 2018 Honors Lecture Series, which focuses on topics of “American Values.”
Vile opened with some basic facts and history about what he says is often referred to as “the nation’s birth certificate.”
“One of the books that I have just completed is an encyclopedia on the Declaration of Independence,” Vile said. “Surprisingly, there isn’t one. The problem with doing an encyclopedia is you tend to think in segments of 250 to 1,000 words. So, today I’m going to try to a little bit more of an overview, particularly with the view to the principals of the Declaration of Independence.”
Vile went on to explain the political issues that arose after the war that is known both as the “French and Indian War” and the “Seven Years War.” In brief, he explained that the war was a conflict between the 13 colonies of Great Britain and the colonies of France throughout North America. Both of the opposing colonies received aid from their parent countries while fighting the war. The 13 British colonies won, and as a result, Canada was turned over to Great Britain, which eliminated the threat of the French for British colonists. British colonists believed that, with less immediate threats of danger, they didn’t need to be as closely tied with their parent country. However, the royal government believed the colonies were obligated to pay back their dues for Britain’s aid during wartime.
Beginning shortly after the conclusion of that war, Great Britain started asserting its authority in the colonies, which led to the issue of “taxation without representation,” a war between Great Britain and the colonists and, ultimately, the Declaration of Independence.
After providing some background, Vile took time to describe what was written on the document and, more specifically, why it was written the way it was and is today. He explained how the Declaration of Independence was drafted from other documents studied by Thomas Jefferson and was by no means a uniquely original document. In fact, Vile explained that Thomas Jefferson didn’t deny the fact that some of his ideas and principles for writing Declaration of Independence were borrowed from the English philosopher and physician, John Locke.
“(Jefferson) does say that he hadn’t copied it from any other previous work, but he goes on to say that it wasn’t intended to be an original document,” Vile said. “It was intended, and these were his words, to be an expression of the American mind.”
Vile concluded by speaking about some of the specific phrases in the Declaration of Independence and their meanings in regards to grievances toward Great Britain during the fight for independence.
“The great majority of the Declaration of Independence is actually a list of grievances against the king, and if you were to go down collectively, you would find that the first large chunk of accusations begin with the words ‘He has,'” Vile said.
For more information on the spring 2018 Honors Lecture Series, visit here.
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