Jefferson begins explaining the reasons for the break with Great Britain with these well-known words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . .”
Just what does the expression “self-evident” truths mean? Basically, it means that the truth of a given proposition is clear without the inclusion of additional propositions or evidence. Once one understands the terms contained in the proposition, its truthfulness is clear. This implies that a state of affairs contradicting the proposition is not worth serious consideration. Jefferson implied as much in his original phrasing which said the truths were “sacred and undeniable.” A self-evident truth is undeniable in that it's opposite cannot seriously be considered.
The proposition to which Jefferson alluded concerned natural equality, natural rights, and republican government. Whether the propositions really are self evident may depend upon what Jefferson meant by them. The same goes for whether or not they are true at all. Whether true or not, they have nevertheless become the ideas justifying a war for independence and the ideas on which our nation is founded. The next post will look at those ideas.