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American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence Paperback – May 26, 1998
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Shows all of the human frailties, especially those of memory when Adams and Jefferson are asked to describe how the Declaration was written.
Maier shows the changes made in Jefferson's drafts and what may be the single instance of group editing actually making a document BETTER! It is well-enough written to still raise questions of modern political importance, such as what were the Founding Fathers' attitudes towards religion? Why did two of the rights in the Bill of Rights get rejected?
Only objection: a little professorial and dry in spots.
In American Scripture, Pauline Maier taught us how the Declaration of Independence came about, how it was regarded in the early years after it was written, how it was revisited via the need to associate Thomas Jefferson with the Revolution and its ideas, and finally how it has been remembered over time. The story illustrates the phenomenon that the central documents of the American founding have endured and yet changed over the centuries as each new generation of Americans reinterprets it for their own use and needs. In order to establish how those views came about, Maier first explored how the document itself was created.
The book itself is a wonderful exploration of the process that led to the actual document as penned by Thomas Jefferson, edited with some very minor changes by the committee of five, and then once again edited by the Second Continental Congress as a body of the whole. Maier also discovered how Jefferson was inspired and what works guided him in his efforts. This is pretty important because it illustrates how the Declaration is not the only work from that time period to delve into the concepts that would become the founding principles of the United States. Part II of the book goes into the other “Declarations” which prove that the Revolution was a bottom up even rather than top down.
Another fascinating part of the book is where Maier ventured into fairly unknown waters in explaining what happened to the perceptions of the Declaration after it was written. Many Americans today have an interpretation of the DOI that few had when it was written. Many today have no idea that the purpose of the Declaration was served with its adoption by the Congress as the document expressing that the former British colonies were now free and independent states. This also meant that they were in the war to win independence, a fact that was vital to securing desperately needed military supplies from France. In fact, without those supplies the outcome of the Revolution would have been vastly different, if it has been won at all by any state.
The result is an outstanding narrative which is a true must read for almost anyone who wants to explore the history of the United States. It is not homage to the men of the past, but rather a well told exploration of what they did, how they did it, the document they created in that process, and what happened with the document itself. It is safe to say the concepts expressed by the DOI have taken on a life of their own and at times even transcended the words used to express them. As such, it helps to know the story of how they came about and how they changed over the years to meet the needs of generations of Americans. Pauline Maier was at the top of her game when she wrote this book and readers will not be disappointed with her efforts.