A Stray Spot? or a Period?

  • 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).

JDN | 14-Jul-2014

The most exciting scientific find of the period was Charles Willson Peale’s exhumation in 1801 near Newburgh, New York, of the bones of the mastodon, or mammoth. Peale displayed his mammoth in his celebrated museum and in 1806 painted a marvelous picture of what was perhaps the first organized exhumation in American history. Peale’s discovery electrified the country and put the word mammoth on everybody’s lips. A Philadelphia baker advertised the sale of mammoth bread. In Washington a mammoth eater ate forty-two eggs in ten minutes. And under the leadership of the Baptist preacher John Leland, the ladies of Cheshire, Massachusetts, late in 1801 sent to President Jefferson a mammoth cheese, six feet in diameter and nearly two feet thick and weighing 1,230 pounds.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)