A Latin statement commonly used in the Middle Ages to define the purpose of government reads: servitium propter jura, non potestas praeter jura. This succinct statement translates to mean, "service to and for the sake of rights, not a power exercised beyond or outside of rights." This age-old definition of what gains a government should work toward, coupled with a belief in the importance of universal rights, provided in essence the backbone of the American Declaration of Independence. However, Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress chose a more contemporary elaboration of what was meant by those succinct Latin words when they endeavored to break the union with England. .
Yet few Americans choose to take the opportunity to learn and understand those defining principles that the Founding Fathers laid forth in that first and all-important document. If contemporary Americans were to simply read the words and follow the principles that reside within Declaration of Independence, the nation as a whole might be philosophically aimed in an entirely different direction the one for which it was first intended.
The Declaration of Independence was written as a means of accusing the English King of wrongs before the world as a jury. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying it was "an appeal to the tribunal of the world." (Adler 23) But under which law was the King to be accused? Obviously not English law, the very law they were putting down. The laws of an independent and sovereign nation would likewise have ill effect. Jefferson instead chose to use a law John Locke had first proposed called natural law, which had become the very fuel enflaming the colonies. (Munves 13) These are rights believed to be the common property of all individuals, regardless of nationality, and are older indeed than any government. .
Therefore, one of the most fundamental misconceptions most Americans have about the Declaration of Independence pertains to the document's intended audience.