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Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas Paperback – February 12, 1958
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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distinguish this book as one of the most complete studies of America's--and arguably the world's--most important historical document.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
ion 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.
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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!
So imagine me in Barnes and Noble in the mid 1990s, and I disocver this book as I rediscover my heritage.
I read it cover to cover in a day (it's a fairly easy read) and for the most part enjoy it until I come upon the part about slavery. Mister Becker pulls no punches in regards to his blatant racism, calling both the ancestor black slaves of today's African Americans "sambos", and how the clause in slavery cannot possibly serve them because they cannot appreciate true freedom.
I personally fail to see any other enlightenment from this tragically flawed tome. If you can gleam more from it (as I probably did at the time), then that's great, but at that moment of discussing the imported forced labor I no longer wanted anything more to do with this book.
There's more than just poor Becker's racism to be sure, but right now that's the strongest image I have from this book.
Read if you must, but be warned.