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Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas Paperback – February 12, 1958


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 12, 1958)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394700600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394700601
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,163,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Carl L. Becker's classic study of the text of the Declaration of Independence first appeared in 1922, it marked a great departure from the passionate and patriotic tenor of many existing historical analyses. Becker claims his work was well received by all reviewers save one, who criticized its preoccupation with hard cold documents. In the 1941 introduction to this edition, Becker defends his approach, stating: "I was aware that men had bled and died for freedom.... But on this occasion I chose to write a book about the document itself ... a state paper of sufficient renown to be classed with the world's classics of political literature."

Becker describes the rhythm of the first line of the Declaration of Independence as "that felicitous, haunting cadence which is the peculiar quality of Jefferson's best writing." He goes on to define the purpose of the document, its views, where those views arose, and how succeeding generations have accepted or modified them. Chapters such as "Historical Antecedents of the Declaration: The Natural Rights Philosophy," "Drafting the Declaration; The Literary Qualities of the Declaration," and "The Philosophy of the Declaration in the Nineteenth Century" distinguish this book as one of the most complete studies of America's--and arguably the world's--most important historical document.

From the Inside Flap

The Declaration of Independence

Carl L. Becker's important study is an analysis of the concepts expressed in the Declaration. Here is a lucid explanation of what the Declaration really is, what views it sets forth, where those views arose, and how they have been accepted or modified by succeeding generations. A book that every American should read.

Customer Reviews

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I really could have done without his granularity in this area.
M. Schubert
This is one of the great history books of all time, a classic that every history and political science student should read at some point in their studies and in life.
Charlie Aukerman
Becker does an awesome job dissecting the Declaration and its influences primarily from Jefferson through Locke.
A. Ort

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By R. B. Bernstein on September 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Carl L. Becker's book on the Declaration of Independence first appeared nearly eighty years ago, and yet it is still a valuable and stimulating study of its subject. It is dated now, for two large reasons:
First, Becker wrote before the revolution in studying the history of ideas, and thus unavoidably predates the close-focus examination of the controversy between Great Britain and her American colonies in the years from 1765 to 1776. Two recent books should be read alongside Becker's monograph -- Pauline Maier's AMERICAN SCRIPTURE: MAKING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (New York: Knopf, 1997; Vintage paperback, 1998), and John Phillip Reid, CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, abridged ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995).
Second, Becker focuses on Jefferson as *the* author of the Declaration, neglecting that he was actually the draftsman selected by the Continental Congress and his colleagues within the drafting committee. Thus, the Declaration -- no matter what Jefferson said about it in later life -- was not primarily a window into his own thinking about natural rights and democracy, but rather the final statement by Congress as to the reasons for breaking ties with Britain. To be sure, later generations have read it as an expression of Jefferson's mind -- rather than of "the American mind," as he put it. But, as Maier shows in AMERICAN SCRIPTURE, Jefferson's thinking was nowhere near as unique or advanced on these subjects as later hero-worshipping biographers have suggested.
In particular, as Maier has shown, the age-old dispute about whether Jefferson was or was not influenced by Locke is somewhat beside the point.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By M. Schubert on April 4, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In high school, kids spend time reviewing the Declaration of Independence and learning its meaning. This book goes well beyond that to inspect the thoughts and ideas that were prevalent in the late 18th century and how they influenced the document. Becker goes into great detail about natural rights theory according to John Locke and explores the ins and outs of its implications. This to me was the strongest and most enjoyable part of the book. He also explores the thoughts and ideas that were circulating Britain at the time.
Building on this foundation, he weaves a tale as to why certain things were worded as they were (like Britain being run as a ruthless tyrant), and why certain things were left out altogether (like slavery). He also closely examines the changes that took place in the drafts and attributes them to individuals who proofread Jefferson's draft. I really could have done without his granularity in this area.
In all, this was a fascinating read. For those of you who want to extend your knowledge beyond the simple presentation of the document you received in high school, I highly recommend buying this book!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. Ort on November 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
I have read this book, off and on, several times. It never ceases to amaze me. I tend to be a controversialist and rely upon this book often to help those who seem convinced that the Founding Fathers were of a particular religious persuasion. While foundationally on a personal level this may be true, in general they bowed down to a higher power: Reason. Yet this was not new to them nor were their political theories. Their roots came from somewhere else and that somewhere else was from the European soil they had left.
Becker does an awesome job dissecting the Declaration and its influences primarily from Jefferson through Locke. The natural rights philosophy chapter is awesome. This book is over seventy five years old and its arguments have been revisited and even countered but the book is still foundationally necessary for anyone who seeks to study the Declaration of Independence. In terms of studying the Declaration, there is before Becker's book and there is after.
There are many revealing insights and oddities that appear when Becker displays the lines that have been cut from the original draft (e.g. notice there is no mention of slavery in the final version; the reasons for its excision are included in the book). These little tidbits opened my eyes a bit to the relatively benign history of this document that I had been taught. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing so have a little fun and check this book out.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
This easy to read book disects the wording and phrases in all the various drafts of the declaration. It explores the origins of the ideas and phrasing used, and discusses why individual words or complete phrases were changed, added or removed as they were debated first in committee and later by the Continental Congress. This book is commonly cited by other authors. As an example, it serves both as a source for and wonderful companion to Bernard Bailyn's book "The Ideological Origins to the American Revolution"
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