From Publishers Weekly
Harvard history professor Armitage (Greater Britain, 1516– 1776: Essays in Atlantic History
) examines how America's Declaration of Independence influenced the revolutionary struggles of people around the world. Armitage begins by teasing out the world as the Declaration imagined it: the international community consisted of "peoples linked by both benign and malign forms of commerce," as well as divided by warfare and "threatened by outlaw powers." He then describes how the world reacted to America's Declaration: it almost immediately sparked debate about the basis on which a state was legitimate. Finally, Armitage traces the ripple effects of the Declaration: today half the world's countries have such declarations. The author compares and contrasts these other documents with the American one, showing how other nascent nations sometimes drew on America's language and ideas, such as a statement of grievances. Armitage suggests that this succession of declarations constitutes "a major transition in world history": what was once a world of empires has become a world of sovereign states. This core argument is fascinating and significant, though lengthy appendixes, including several declarations, will interest primarily scholars. (Jan.)
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In this survey of the Declaration of Independence's immediate and long-term influence, Armitage argues that its initial effect was on international law, by its assertion of a new state claiming equality with other states. By contrast, "all men are created equal" took much longer to take hold in the world. Aware of the Declaration's innovation in international affairs, British commentary strove to refute the Declaration's justifications for the British colonies becoming independent: both historian Edward Gibbon and philosopher Jeremy Bentham lent their intellects to the anti-independence case. Once the successful War of Independence settled the matter, Armitage impresses how the Declaration acquired milestone symbolism in the international system, its phrases sometimes copied verbatim in the numerous declarations of independence that have accompanied the world's transition from empires to states. Containing texts of a dozen such declarations, Armitage's readable study restores historical context to our own, truly revolutionary Declaration. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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