In the most important book on the Declaration of Independence in 75 years, Maier reveals the document as both the defining statement of our national identity and the moral compass by which we live as a nation. She also shows how, by the very act of venerating the Declaration, we may also be betraying its purpose and power.In the most important book on the Declaration of Independence in 75 years, Maier reveals the document as both the defining statement of our national identity and the moral compass by which we live as a nation. She also shows how, by the very act of venerating the Declaration, we may also be betraying its purpose and power.Read Less
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Publishers Weekly, 1997-06-02 How is it that a document that was at points derivative, specious, inflated and politically compromised came to take on almost sacred significance in American culture? In fact, few Americans have bothered to examine much beyond a few choice clauses from the preamble ("all men are created equal... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" etc.). But Maier (The Old Revolutionaries) certainly has. After a succinct and engaging account of the circumstances of the Second Continental Congress, she examines Jefferson's models, particularly the state and local declarations of independence framed in the spring of 1776. Maier then looks carefully at the work's original (though now largely ignored) purposeŠthe airing of grievances against George III, some of which were localized insults generalized to the nation; some, so vague as to be pointless; some, blinkered versions of complex situations. Having set the stage, Maier then proceeds in the last quarter of her book to describe the evolving significance of the Declaration. Whereas Jefferson began to see it as his best chance at glory with the Republicans, who exploited it as an anti-British instrument, Lincoln used it to refute Stephen Douglas and, ultimately, slavery. It's not a terribly long book and could probably have been shorterŠthere are superfluities and tautologies (e.g. restating the point that leveling accusations at the king was the way Englishmen declared revolution). But these are stylistic quibbles. As an argument and an introduction to a crucial artifact of American culture, this book will clearly take its place alongside works by Michael Kammen and Garry Wills. 30,000 first printing. (July 4)
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