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Sunday, July 4, 2010

declaration of independence text

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A declaration for all time

declaration of independence text

Our country's founding document retains its genius even as the times, and our values, change.

The story of the Declaration of Independence has been mined so deeply and disseminated so widely that most of the myths surrounding it have long since been dispelled. It was not, we now know, on the 4th of July, 1776, that Americans declared their independence, but on the 2nd of July — when the Second Continental Congress formally resolved that the colonies ought to be independent and that bonds to the British Crown should be dissolved (leading John Adams to write to his wife that July 2 would henceforth be celebrated by Americans as their "Day of Deliverance" and "solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other").

The Declaration itself was signed two days later, but, frankly, many considered it a not terribly important document, more "dress and ornament rather than Body, Soul or Substance," as Adams put it. It took months before an official copy arrived in Europe (the original dispatched by the Congress got lost), according to historian Pauline Maier, and in the decades that followed, it did not stand out for most Americans as the classic statement of their national principles. A British parliamentarian, admittedly biased, called it "a wretched composition, very ill written, drawn up with a view to captivate the people."

One reason it didn't immediately take its rightful place in history may be that it was viewed very differently then than it is now. Indeed, even Thomas Jefferson, when he drafted it, didn't see it as fundamentally about liberty or equality or the rights of man, as we do today. His focus, says Maier, was less on individuals than on colonial grievances and the prerogative of the people, collectively, to "alter and abolish" any government that failed to represent them or to ensure their safety and happiness.

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