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Comparing Declaration of Independence to I Have a Dream Speech Essay Sample

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Comparing Declaration of Independence to I Have a Dream Speech Essay Sample

It will not be an easy task deciding which one is better: Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence or Martin Luther King’s, “I have a Dream” speech. Both men are considered heavyweights in terms of accomplishment. The former made his mark in the founding of the United States and the latter a more contemporary hero who will be credited in changing America’s perspective – in terms of civil rights and equality – in the decade of the 1960’s. Jefferson was instrumental in ushering in a new nation free from tyrannical rule. Martin Luther King on the other hand was instrumental in ushering a new age for the Negro people and for burnishing the image of America as land of the free and so that is why these two men loom large in American history.

Yet, if forced to choose then the proponent of this paper will have to go with Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. This paper will attempt to explain the reasons why Jefferson’s work is in a league of its own. There is just nothing like it in the history of the United States. The comparison will be done using the following parameters:

  • Scope – extent of coverage, does the work cover all aspects of American life.
  • Language – the appropriateness and effect of the words used
  • Audience – who where the intended audience
  • Purpose – the end goal; is it enough to inspire a large portion of the population
  • Style – how was the message delivered; was it effective?
  • Impact – what happened after disseminating the document or the delivery of the speech


            In this area, Jefferson wins hands down. The Declaration of Independence opened up a gateway for the creation of the United States of America, as it is known today. It would be very hard to imagine a powerful U.S. without this document (see Whitehouse.gov, 2007). Moreover, the details of the document pertains to all inhabitants of the colonies, including freemen, slaves, and even the immigrants who are still about to enter in (Murrel, 2006,p. 407-408).

            Martin Luther King’s speech focuses on the plight of the Negroes in the U.S. Although everyone gets affected by the ramifications of the speech, the rest benefits only indirectly. For instance, upholding civil rights can help make African-Americans to prosper and thus improving the conditions of American society that in turn will benefit the peace and order of communities.


            Martin Luther King Jr. was a powerful speaker and writer. One cannot fail to see it in his speech. But Martin Luther King, Jr. borrowed extensively from the Bible and from Jefferson and Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson on the other hand – although taking inspiration from the Bible – was forced to create original ideas and unique word patterns simply because there is no precedent to what he wanted to do.

            The proponent believes that in the long history of the British Empire this is the first time that a colony is declaring independence from British hegemony. Therefore there is no one to look up to, no one else to emulate. This made the words of Jefferson stand like a towering landmark in the history of world government and politics.


            As mentioned earlier King’s speech is more or less focused on the quality of life in the South. The speech was an appeal to the people who are not yet comfortable with the idea that they can live in harmony and mutual respect with a man of color. Contrast this to Jefferson’s document that not only appeals to Americans but also to citizens of the British Empire.

            Furthermore, Jefferson did not only intend to have the colonies and England as the only audience or recipient of his message. He is also intent on changing the perspective of the whole world when it comes to freedom and equality. David Armitage pointed out that the implied audience of the document is the candid world at large as it declares, “…the United Colonies had ceased to be members of the British Empire and now stood alongside the Powers of the Earth” (2000, p. 33). This is clearly an indication that the Jefferson intended to influence the rest of the world.


            There is no debating the equal importance of the two messages in this country’s history. The sheer force of these two men’s intellect and persuasive power has transformed America into a superpower and a nation capable of affecting the course of world history. Still, in assessing the end goal for the document and for the speech Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence still takes the cake.

            The emancipation of the Negro people is a noble purpose but its effect is limited to America, especially the South. The speech is an appeal to change a way of life with regards to how the white man treated the Negroes. Jefferson’s document on the other hand is geared towards the establishment of a new nation, a new government, and new geographical borders.


            Two differing styles were used to convey their historic message. Jefferson set his mind to write a document, while Martin Luther King, Jr. went with the tool that has served him well in the past and it is through public speaking.  With regards to this parameter, the proponent concedes that it would be impossible to choose which work is better.

            The written document was the means by which Jefferson’s ideas can be transmitted across the Atlantic. It is the means by which the current plight of the colonies will be made known throughout the world. The Declaration of Independence was written for the future in mind, that the succeeding generations can have something tangible from which they can trace their past.

            Martin Luther King, Jr. on the other hand made a speech because it was appropriate. And the mode of delivery immortalized the speaker. There were countless of documents written for the same purpose and Mr. King could go that route. But the effect would not be the same. Furthermore, the speech is appropriate because there are many African-Americans at that time that could not read and be denied of a chance to get hold of a great vision for the Negro race.


            In terms of impact, Jefferson’s document scores higher because it is a message that could not only benefit America but other nations who are suffering from the tyrannical rule of a despot. The Declaration of Independence can help others see a different word, to make the oppressed understand that he does not have to suffer in perpetuity.

            The Declaration of Independence is just a piece of paper. But the ideas and concepts contained within it is as powerful as a hundred atomic bombs. It pointed a new way for the colonies. It provided hope, guidance, and inspiration for those who had been suffering under a tyrant’s rule. It provided a path for others to follow and it is instrumental in keeping the Union of different States together even after more than two hundred years after it was written.

            Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech is also as explosive but it has to be relegated to the number two spot because its scope and reach is limited. In a global setting there are places that will never understand the meaning of racism and slavery. Still, Mr. King’s speech played a very important part in nation building. If the Declaration of Independence created an identity for America and started it off to the right direction then Mr. King’s speech is the force that lifted up the nation to greater heights (Muller, 2006, p. 413-414).

            Martin Luther King, Jr. in just a relatively short discourse was able to explain that it is not enough for America to be free. Its freedom does not mean a thing if it is not a just society. The true test of America’s greatness is its ability to take under her wings those who are downtrodden and weak. The speech forced America to look at its moral compass and find out if it was defective.

            Jefferson was instrumental in pushing the boat into the ocean of freedom but it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who was instrumental in adjusting the sails and helps steer the boat to the open waters, far from the destructive rocks of hate, racism, and selfishness. Both men are worthy to be emulated and their works stands as a reminder that whenever darkness threatens to overwhelm the earth, great men of courage, strength and wisdom will rise up to push the hordes of hell back. By doing so they did not only create a better place for their family but also a better place for the rest of humanity.


            Jefferson’s document was able to impact a whole continent and was so influential that it carved a new nation independent from British rule. On the other hand Luther’s speech was simply a message to improve on what the founding fathers had started. It was not as significant as the Declaration of Independence even as its importance could not be understated. Luther’s speech made it clear for us what Jefferson was trying to say. Luther’s speech was the embodiment of the ideals that can be found in the Declaration of Independence but it was not foundational. Jefferson’s work was the foundation that will be used by every single American living after the proclamation of independence. In short there would be no Martin Luther King if it were not for Jefferson’s document. It would have been impossible for Luther to march around town and to make fiery speeches. It would have been impossible for Martin Luther King to make the “I have a Dream” speech without the reality of the Declaration of Independence.

            If one is allowed to use the Biblical characters for illustration purposes then Jefferson is to Moses while Martin Luther King is for Elijah. Both men were major characters in the Bible they were heroes who redefined the history of the nation of Israel. But clearly Moses had a more significant role because he is considered a founding father and the one who provided the necessary tools and ideas for the establishment of the Israelites. Elijah played an important role because his job was to improve on the major work established by Moses.

            It needs to be reiterated that this is no easy task: choosing which work is better. But based on the parameters used and the foundational nature of the Declaration of Independence the proponent chose Jefferson’s work to be more important than that of Martin Luther King, Jr’s, speech. If Mr. King is alive today he would probably agree to this assessment.

Works Cited

Armitage, David. The Declaration of Independence: A Global History. MA: Harvard University

Press, 2007.

King, M.L. Jr. Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.

Muller, Gilbert. Mc-Graw Hill Reader: U.S. History. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2006.

Quinn, C. Edward. The Signers of the Declaration of Independence. New York: The Bronx

County Historical Society, 1988.

The White House. Thomas Jefferson.  Accessed  11 October 2007.  Available from:             http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/tj3.html

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