The Week in the Declaration of Independence

“Is it the Fourth?” Indeed, it is. And, along with it comes no shortage of interesting conversations about the Declaration of Independence. So here is our quick roundup…

The New York Times ran a story by their intrepid academic reporter, Jennifer Scheussler, detailing the work of Danielle Allen, a political scientist at the Institute for Advanced Study. In her draft paper from the IAS, “Punctuating Happiness: the textual tradition of the Declaration of Independence,”Allen claims that the period at the end of the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—found in the 1823 copper engraving of the original parchment by William J. Stone—was not a part of the original document and that it has contributed to a “serious misunderstanding” of the document. Because the following clause is “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,” Allen argues that the period found in 1823 has had the effect of obscuring the intended connection between those self-evident truths and the role of government in protecting them. Instead, the period separates the two, thereby implying a more individualistic interpretation. The Times also ran a review by Steven B. Smith of Allen’s new book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, which ended thusly, “Allen’s case for a more robustly egalitarian Declaration makes her book timely, but that doesn’t make it true.” Not long after the NYT story went live, our very own Joseph Adelman entered the fray with his “A Contrarian Take on the Mystery of the Missing Period” and then followed up with a series of tweets.

Meanwhile, in The Wall Street Journal, David Armitage writes about the global influence of the Declaration, arguing that “no American document has had a greater impact on the wider world.”

Also, from the Junto Archives, you can revisit pieces by Joseph Adelman on teaching the Declaration of Independence and Roy Rogers on Pauline Maier’s book on the Declaration of Independence, American Scripture. The Junto also has long list of posts dealing with the American Revolution.

Finally, don’t forget to check out the most recent episode of “The JuntoCast,” which focuses on the Declaration of Independence, as well as relevant previous episodes on the Continental Congress, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and the American Revolution.

2 responses

  1. I know that capitalization rules in the 18th century were much different than they are now. But if there’s no period, why would “That” be capitalized? I’m also unclear on what difference the period makes. Government is institute to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This seems the reading regardless…


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