Review: American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had heard a lot about this book, all of it positive, and so had added it to my pile of books to read, which now I'm slowly working my way through.

The first three sections of the book focus on setting the textual context around which the wording of the Declaration came to be - it describes the many "other Declarations" from states and localities also being produced in the early Revolutionary timeframe, and the debt owed to the English tradition of Declarations, especially the Declaration of Rights of 1689, all of which I was unaware of before. There's also a section delving into the authorship (as opposed to drafting) of the document. This history focuses on the wording of the document, more so than the Revolutionary events around it. The author clearly knows her stuff (it's one of those books where you want to make sure you check out the footnotes as there's some good stuff in there), and she keeps it interesting, in plain and engaging language.

In the introduction the author sets the goal of telling two stories - one of the original making of the Declaration, and the other of the "remaking into the document most Americans know, remember and revere". She's very thorough in telling the first story, as mentioned above, but as to the second story things are not nearly as complete. This second story comes in the fourth and final part of the book and mostly revolves around the case she makes for Lincoln "remaking" the document into a statement of principals around equality. The epilogue includes a brief mention of Martin Luther King, and then the book is done. I felt there was much more of that second story to tell that she left untold.

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