- 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 unattractive truth was that the arrival of the provisional treaty ending the war in April 1783 made the Continental Army superfluous, and the sooner it disappeared, the better. Congress eventually voted to provide full pay for five years for officers in lieu of half pay for life, but doing so was a purely rhetorical exercise, since there was no money in the federal coffers to pay anyone. Even that meaningless commitment generated widespread criticism, especially in New England, where returning officers were greeted with newspaper editorials describing them as blood-beaked vultures feeding at the public trough. At least in retrospect, the dissolution of the Continental Army in the spring of 1783 was one of the most poignant scenes in American history, as the men who had stayed the course and won the war were ushered off without pay, with paper pensions and only grudging recognition of their service.