Tags: declaration of independence | period | questions | truths

Declaration of Independence Period Creates Questions About Truths

Image: Declaration of Independence Period Creates Questions About Truths
A woman looks at a rare historic copy of the Declaration of Independence written in Thomas Jefferson's hand at the New York Public Library in New York City on July 3, 2014.

By    |   Thursday, 03 Jul 2014 06:37 PM

A researcher is questioning a period put in copies of the Declaration of Independence that is not in the original document and wondering if it changes the meaning of the document, The New York Times reports.

Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, published a draft of a paper this week that she called "Punctuating Happiness" and told The New York Times that period

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Allen noted the period that wasn’t in the original document was added to one of the most well-known passages in the declaration that begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident” and was placed right after “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The extra period effectively separates what Allen said was supposed to be one sentence into two, with the second containing “that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government ...”

“In its complete form, this sentence explains the relationship between individual rights and the value of government as a tool by which we collectively secure safety and happiness; moreover, it identifies this relationship as a matter of self-evident truth,” Allen wrote. “When bi-sected with a period, however, the sentence designates as self-evident truths only the existence of individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The question of how this sentence is punctuated, in other words, dramatically affects how we interpret the most important expression of American ideals written to date.”

Other scholars told the Times that Allen’s question about the Declaration of Independence period is a legitimate one.

“Are the parts about the importance of government part of one cumulative argument, or — as Americans have tended to read the document — subordinate to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’?” said Jack Rakove, a historian at Stanford. “You could make the argument without the punctuation, but clarifying it would help.”

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A researcher is questioning a period put in copies of the Declaration of Independence that is not in the original document and wondering if it changes the meaning of the document.
declaration of independence, period, questions, truths
373
2014-37-03
Thursday, 03 Jul 2014 06:37 PM
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