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

America had a common language, unlike the European nations, none of which was linguistically homogeneous. in 1789 the majority of Frenchmen did not speak French but were divided by a variety of provincial patois. Englishmen from Yorkshire were incomprehensible to those from Cornwall and vice versa. By contrast, Americans could understand one another from Maine to Georgia. It was very obvious why this should be so, said John Witherspoon, president of Princeton. Since Americans were much more unsettled, and move frequently from place to place, they are not as liable to local peculiarities, either in accent or phraseology.

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