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Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence Paperback – November 14, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"No one has offered so drastic a revision or so close or convincing an analysis as Wills has...The results are little short of astonishing."
-- Edmund S. Morgan The New York Review of Books

"The best and most thorough analysis of the Declaration ever written."
--David Brion Davis, The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

"No one has offered so drastic a revision or so close or convincing an analysis as Wills has...The results are little short of astonishing."
-- Edmund S. Morgan The New York Review of Books

"The best and most thorough analysis of the Declaration ever written."
--David Brion Davis, The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st edition (November 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618257764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618257768
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. DelParto VINE VOICE on November 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
Garry Wills provides a critical examination of the Declaration of Independence. In light of the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, Wills conducted a five-year study of the most important document in American history. He writes a behind the scenes narrative of Jefferson's Declaration in relation to the initial Declaration, Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, which many readers of US history may not be familiar with. Unless one has taken a course that concentrates in dissecting this important document bit by bit, the average individual will be surprised with the contents in Inventing America. Wills emphasizes how the Declaration has been underrated and misstated, and he clarifies the misstatements, such as the date the document was signed and its sole purpose of being.

Wills takes the Declaration beyond its national symbolism and general aspects. The book is divided into five parts, which show the significance of the Declaration as a Revolutionary, Scientific, Moral, Sentimental, and National paper. Indeed, he makes references to the most important phrases and passages in the document, "the pursuit of happiness" and "All men are created equal." However, he begins his study with Thomas Jefferson's original concept, which was derived from European models of Enlightenment thinking. Jefferson took his ideas from Francis Hutcheson and the Scottish Enlightenment, but Wills also debates and analyzes the Lockean orthodoxy that scholars, such as Carl Becker has attested to in the past.

The Declaration was the first step towards independence. However, it did not initially act as legal document, but rather a propaganda tool for a call for action.
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Format: Paperback
Wills' "Inventing America" is a good, though somewhat mixed, effort in deconstructing the Declaration of Independence. The language and meaning of the Declaration are analyzed in the context of the times, which were at the height of the Enlightenment. In addition, some factual basics of the Declaration are reexamined.

The book is equal parts the Declaration and the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and others. Contrary to the view of many in the 20th century that Jefferson was a Lockean individualist who stressed private property rights, the author shows that Scottish moral philosophers, the leading intellectuals and teachers of the mid 18th century, exerted by far the most influence on Jefferson. An essential aspect of their thinking was that man had an innate moral sense which resulted in the exercise of "benevolence" towards their fellow men. It was a distinctly social orientation. The author is rather convincing in demonstrating that the Declaration gains meaning only when understood as reflecting that thinking. Jefferson's original effort, which he much preferred, is contrasted with the final version, edited by the whole Congress, throughout the book and reinforces the author's insights.

There are any number of other clarifications. Petitioning the King or Parliament to seek redress for wrongs was a well-established tradition. The Continental Congress in 1774-75 did just that. Those petitions were enumerated in the Declaration. The American Revolution was viewed as similar to the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, where an oppressive king was dethroned. The American Revolution was not considered to be a rebellion or a revolt, but an exercise of the rights of Englishmen.
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Format: Paperback
Garry Wills "Inventing America" is a interesting and unconventional take on the thought of Thomas Jefferson and his authorship of the Declaration of Independence. Wills rejects the traditional "Lockean" view and instead puts forward a different and, I believe, valid hypothesis. Wills finds the philosophy of the Declaration in Jefferson's reading of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, Francis Hutchenson, Thomas Reid, David Hume, and Lord Kames. These thinkers beleived, along with Jefferson, that man had an inate "moral sense" which man him human and governed the affairs of society. Wills book starts out slow when talking about the Decalrations beginnings, and the early Enlightenment influence, but picks up when he relates these thought to Jefferson.
Chapters 16 and 22 are particularly good since they deal with Jefferson's views on slavery. Wills correctly shows Jefferson always thought blacks fully human with a moral sense and integrity. Although he found their intelligence possibly below other races he never rejected their humanity nor their right "as a people" to be free. Chapter 22 show the fallacies behind modern critisism about simply "freeing" the slaves. Wills shows how unrealistic and quite impossible a wholesale emancipation in colonial Virginia would have been. Instead Jefferson wants freedom and education for the blacks, in their own nation, colinized to Africa where they could live free "as a people". Overall a great book.
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Format: Hardcover
Garry Wills' Inventing America is clearly a labor of love. Its learned, precise, and passionate scholarship effectively skewers much of the scholarship that preceded it. Wills forcefully repudiates the common assertion (derived largely from Carl Becker's important work) that the Declaration of Independence is an utterly Lockean document. Instead, Wills shows that Thomas Jefferson was only slightly influenced by Locke, and was instead completely a product of the Scottish Enlightenment. By placing key terms and phrases in the context of 18th century America, Wills brings the meaning of the Declaration to life, and alters its existence from a vague philosophical statement that we merely "see" rather than "read" into a specific political document with very particular meanings and functions.
It is a shame that this book is out of print; it should be required reading to students of the history of American Independence.
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