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American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence Paperback – May 26, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

This is a well-written, well-researched, entertaining account of the creation of the United States' Declaration of Independence as well as an analysis of how the declaration has been enshrined as something of a sacred document (a place it did not always hold). Pauline Maier, a history professor at MIT, will no doubt surprise many readers with detective work demonstrating that Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was actually preceded by many local declarations, which have been generally overlooked by historians but which were published throughout the colonies and were well known in their day. American Scripture holds many surprises as it details Jefferson's drafting of the document, the editing process, and the varying regard with which the Declaration of Independence has been held in the past two centuries. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Maier (American history, MIT; From Resistance to Revolution, LJ 7/72) sets the stage for her fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence with a concise and well-written introduction into the political background of the American Revolution. She provides the context for the document within the British tradition of declarations, addresses, and petitions and relates it to the many local and state declarations that aimed to mobilize support for independence. The thrust of her work is a careful examination of the drafting of the document by Jefferson and the Congressional committee; she then describes how Congress edited it into its final form. The latter third of the book is dedicated to the ways in which the Declaration has been redefined and used by different groups of Americans. Combining meticulous scholarship with clear prose, Maier tells a compelling story that will succeed in winning her a general audience. Highly recommended.
-?David B. Mattern, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (May 26, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679779086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679779087
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
This interesting book demythologizes the creation of the Declaration by showing its relation to the times. Rather than being the brilliant and idiosyncratic creation of a single man (Thomas Jefferson), the Declaration is closely related to many other contemporary documents (including many other declarations of independence in the colonies). As Maier shows, its style and form also are derived from the historical conventions of written documents in Britain, the significance of such documents and their use to explain or justify events. Jefferson drafted the document but the final version is the product of a collective effort. Maier focuses on the historical context rather than on the abstract intellectual content of the Declaration considered in isolation. The book is well-written and I found it very interesting and informative. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Declaration or in this period of American history.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Govindan Nair on September 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
MIT historian Pauline Maier has written a richly documented and highly informative analysis of a document which is widely regarded as the symbolic expression of the birth of American nationhood -- the Declaration of Independence. This book shatters well established myths regarding the nature and authorship of this key document in the history of the United States, and cautions readers against the misrepresentations of this history in contemporary texts and monuments.
A major thrust of the book is its analysis and comparison of "declarations of independence" adopted by various localities and states among the American colonies prior to the adoption of the July 4 1776 document by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The author documents the popular origins of the American Revolution and its roots in older English traditions of bringing royal regimes to an end. Noting that at least ninety, possibly more, such local "declarations" were adopted by various communities in colonial America, during 1775 and 1776, with several examples reproduced in an appendix, the author points to similarities in drafting with English documents which had sought to explain and justify why Englishmen brought the rule by various English kings to an end on five occasions between 1327 and 1485, and then twice again in the seventeenth century. Paradoxically, it was this English tradition of declarations which inspired the drafting of similar declarations among the American colonies as they grew disenchanted with not only British Parliament, but also King George III, and even the British people.
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53 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Mark D. Smith on July 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
American Scripture takes a detailed look at the construction of the Declaration of Independence. It compares/constrasts this important document with other documents (state declarations,etc.) and other works/writings of the timeperiod in order to see how Jefferson (primarily) constructed the declaration. It also looks at the editing process done by the 2nd Continental Congress. Finally it looks at how the document came to be revered and how it is/has been used for politcal purposes (slavery,etc...)
Overall, it is an interesting read that sometimes gets bogged down in details and minor differences between the end product and sources used possibly by Jefferson. I would only recommend it for those that want to expand upon their background knowledge of the formulation of the Declaration of Independence.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 1, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pauline Maier gives an insightful view of several of our most prominent founding fathers. And the parts played by each in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to the part played by the "committee of five" and the Congress as a reviewing and adapting committee itself. She enlightens us on the friendships, political philosophies and philosphical differences of the two most important figures (Jefferson and Adams) . Not to mention giving us a glimpse at their self controlled egos and jealousies as well. Of considerable interest is the overall public or social climate during the drafting of one of our most precious Documents. An understanding I had not had before. I very much enjoyed this book as a reference for further and/or continuing studies of the beginnings of this great Republic of ours and the men who made it possible. In any study of the same the more broad picture one can paint of these men the better one will be able to understand them and their motives. Never relying soley on any one point of view or perspective. But taking in as many as possible. It does not provide the in depth philosophies that Carl Becker provides in his book "The Declaration of Independence". But together they are a formitable start on understanding certain aspects of our Heritage and our founders intentions. When combined with an understanding of the Religious, moral and ethical standards of the time period (those manuals and books which shaped their thought processes) . The desperate straights that a break away philosophy created is brought vividly to life. One can begin to get a clear picture of the magnificent and wonderful event this document represents. Pauline Maier has created a work that should without a doubt be included in any dedicated study of the Birth of our Nation.
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