Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 1631490443

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize, Society of American Historians

“A tour de force. . . . No one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one.”―Gordon Wood, New York Review of Books

Featured on the front page of the New York Times, Our Declaration is already regarded as a seminal work that reinterprets the promise of American democracy through our founding text. Combining a personal account of teaching the Declaration with a vivid evocation of the colonial world between 1774 and 1777, Allen, a political philosopher renowned for her work on justice and citizenship reveals our nation’s founding text to be an animating force that not only changed the world more than two-hundred years ago, but also still can. Challenging conventional wisdom, she boldly makes the case that the Declaration is a document as much about political equality as about individual liberty. Beautifully illustrated throughout, Our Declaration is an “uncommonly elegant, incisive, and often poetic primer on America’s cardinal text” (David M. Kennedy). 35 illustrations

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up.” In February—when Adams and Lee seem to have begun to set their “independence” strategy in motion—Adams had drafted a to-do list for measures to be pursued in Congress that spring. It included these two items: “Government to be assumed in every Colony” and “Declaration of Independency.” With the May 15 vote, he had accomplished the first. In his mind, as he said, that May 15 resolution was already “independence itself.” Yet the formal doing of “independency” was still necessary. He and Lee

respect the fact that it is his and accommodate myself to his ownership. When I leave his Toyota alone, I am respecting his right to it. How exactly do the laws of nature and of nature’s God similarly give the newly united states a right to separate and equal station among the powers of the earth? There are two ways to understand this idea. Sometimes people suggest we should understand the idea as saying the following: All people naturally want to survive, so when any given group finds a way

(provided, of course, that they do so without endangering anyone else), we will bring war on ourselves and so jeopardize our own projects of survival. The Declaration, in other words, gives us two ways of understanding the source of rights. We can see them as coming from nature and/or we can see them as coming from God. It’s like belt and suspenders. Does it matter which interpretation is used to understand the invocation of the idea of “right” or “entitlement”? Or let me put it differently,

EQUAL IN BEING endowed with capacities to pursue their individual and collective safety and happiness through politics—through the instrument of government. The second facet of equality presented by the Declaration highlights the importance of equal access to the instrument of government. This sentence has already yielded a rich reward, but there is still more here. Just like the first sentence of the Declaration, the second one requires us to explore subjects beyond equality. The first sentence

quite right and moments slightly odd—a pocketful of worry beads long mindlessly fingered—now sorts itself into an obvious strand of meaning: He has betrayed me. People provide different descriptions of moments of painful epiphany. Take these poets’ words: and I am sweating a lot by now Or What are these words, these words? They are plopping like mud. Or Over my heart, too, there sweeps a surge of bitterness and I am smitten as if a sword had stabbed me through and through. . . . . . . . .

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