Earlier this month I realized that our nation’s founders declared independence by presenting two explanations of their choice, and showing one to fit the evidence better than the other. That’s a thesis statement.
At the 2023 American Historical Association meeting, I had the privilege of presenting my thesis-statement template as a member of the panel, “Turning the Page: Improving Reading Skills in the History Classroom,” with Laura McEnaney, Andrew Del Calvo, Tomiko Michelle Meeks, and Laura Westhoff.
As Professor Meeks described leading her students through a close reading of primary sources, including the Declaration of Independence, it hit me.
Here is the thesis-statement template:
Why did [person/persons] [do/say/write something surprising]? [Plausible explanation], but in fact [better or more complete explanation].
And here is the opening of the Declaration:
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, 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 to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying 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 shewn, 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 invariably 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.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Look carefully, and you can find all the elements of the template:
Why did one people dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another? You might think they did so for light and transient causes. But in fact, a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism.
Having set forth that argument, Congress is ready to present its evidence: let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
That claim, and that evidence, proved persuasive enough to create a nation that will soon celebrate its first quarter-millennium of independence. Light the fireworks!