- Anyone who has been to the National Archives Museum knows that the Declaration of Independence, the U.S Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are nearly impossible to read due to their faded parchments. Now a scholar claims that the Declaration of Independence, which seems to have a period at the end of
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,in fact does not have one. It is just a stray spot.
According to Danielle Allen (who recently published Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality) the
logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights— life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness —
to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights.Accepting, as almost everyone does, that there is a period significantly changes the meaning of the Declaration, she claims. For a summary of arguments on both sides, see The New York Times (2-Jul-2014).
A Stray Spot? or a Period?
The Federalists of the 1780s had a glimpse of what America was to become — a scrambling business society dominated by the pecuniary interests of ordinary people — and they did not like what they saw. This premonition of America’s future lay behind their sense of crisis and their horrified hyperbolic rhetoric. The wholesale pursuits of private interest and private luxury were, they thought, undermining America’s capacity for republican government. They designed the Constitution in order to save American republicanism from the deadly effects of the private pursuits of happiness.