Court Of Impeachment And War Crimes: Impeach Bush and Cheney, The Foundation of My American Being. The Black Quill on The Declaration of Independence.
Loading...

Click for a full report.

Imbush Peach

An interview with Naomi Wolf about the 10 steps from democracy to dictatorship!

Stop The Spying Now

Stop the Spying!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Impeach Bush and Cheney, The Foundation of My American Being. The Black Quill on The Declaration of Independence.













The Foundation of My American Being.

It may be as faded and frail as a Gutenberg Bible, but it is still My Declaration of Independence, your Declaration of Independence and the foundation corner stone of this nation. For the founding documents of this nation to shoved aside by this administration and minimized as archaic, irrelevant relics only defines their own notions of contemporary tyranny. Generations have held these documents up with reverence and respect, and some of us still cherish them with the same revolutionary zeal as did our fore bearers. That ought to send a chill up the spine of all aspiring tyrants in this nation, open and avowed or closeted.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The Foundation Of My American Being

Nations come into being in many ways. Military rebellion, civil strife, acts of heroism, acts of treachery, a thousand greater and lesser clashes between defenders of the old order and supporters of the new--all these occurrences and more have marked the emergences of new nations, large and small. The birth of our own nation included them all. That birth was unique, not only in the immensity of its later impact on the course of world history and the growth of democracy, but also because so many of the threads in our national history run back through time to come together in one place, in one time, and in one document: the Declaration of Independence.

Moving Toward Independence

The clearest call for independence up to the summer of 1776 came in Philadelphia on June 7. On that date in session in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), the Continental Congress heard Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read his resolution beginning: "Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

The Lee Resolution was an expression of what was already beginning to happen throughout the colonies. When the Second Continental Congress, which was essentially the government of the United States from 1775 to 1788, first met in May 1775, King George III had not replied to the petition for redress of grievances that he had been sent by the First Continental Congress. The Congress gradually took on the responsibilities of a national government. In June 1775 the Congress established the Continental Army as well as a continental currency. By the end of July of that year, it created a post office for the "United Colonies."

In August 1775 a royal proclamation declared that the King's American subjects were "engaged in open and avowed rebellion." Later that year, Parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act, which made all American vessels and cargoes forfeit to the Crown. And in May 1776 the Congress learned that the King had negotiated treaties with German states to hire mercenaries to fight in America. The weight of these actions combined to convince many Americans that the mother country was treating the colonies as a foreign entity.

One by one, the Continental Congress continued to cut the colonies' ties to Britain. The Privateering Resolution, passed in March 1776, allowed the colonists "to fit out armed vessels to cruize [sic] on the enemies of these United Colonies." On April 6, 1776, American ports were opened to commerce with other nations, an action that severed the economic ties fostered by the Navigation Acts. A "Resolution for the Formation of Local Governments" was passed on May 10, 1776.

At the same time, more of the colonists themselves were becoming convinced of the inevitability of independence. Thomas Paine's Common Sense, published in January 1776, was sold by the thousands. By the middle of May 1776, eight colonies had decided that they would support independence. On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention passed a resolution that "the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states."

It was in keeping with these instructions that Richard Henry Lee, on June 7, 1776, presented his resolution. There were still some delegates, however, including those bound by earlier instructions, who wished to pursue the path of reconciliation with Britain. On June 11 consideration of the Lee Resolution was postponed by a vote of seven colonies to five, with New York abstaining. Congress then recessed for 3 weeks. The tone of the debate indicated that at the end of that time the Lee Resolution would be adopted. Before Congress recessed, therefore, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies' case for independence.

The Committee of Five

The committee consisted of two New England men, John Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut; two men from the Middle Colonies, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York; and one southerner, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. In 1823 Jefferson wrote that the other members of the committee "unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. . . I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress." (If Jefferson did make a "fair copy," incorporating the changes made by Franklin and Adams, it has not been preserved. It may have been the copy that was amended by the Congress and used for printing, but in any case, it has not survived. Jefferson's rough draft, however, with changes made by Franklin and Adams, as well as Jefferson's own notes of changes by the Congress, is housed at the Library of Congress.)

Jefferson's account reflects three stages in the life of the Declaration: the document originally written by Jefferson; the changes to that document made by Franklin and Adams, resulting in the version that was submitted by the Committee of Five to the Congress; and the version that was eventually adopted.

On July 1, 1776, Congress reconvened. The following day, the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies, New York not voting. Immediately afterward, the Congress began to consider the Declaration. Adams and Franklin had made only a few changes before the committee submitted the document. The discussion in Congress resulted in some alterations and deletions, but the basic document remained Jefferson's. The process of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late morning of July 4. Then, at last, church bells rang out over Philadelphia; the Declaration had been officially adopted.

The Declaration of Independence is made up of five distinct parts: the introduction; the preamble; the body, which can be divided into two sections; and a conclusion. The introduction states that this document will "declare" the "causes" that have made it necessary for the American colonies to leave the British Empire.

Having stated in the introduction that independence is unavoidable, even necessary, the preamble sets out principles that were already recognized to be "self-evident" by most 18th- century Englishmen, closing with the statement that "a long train of abuses and usurpations . . . evinces a design to reduce [a people] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

The first section of the body of the Declaration gives evidence of the "long train of abuses and usurpations" heaped upon the colonists by King George III. The second section of the body states that the colonists had appealed in vain to their "British brethren" for a redress of their grievances. Having stated the conditions that made independence necessary and having shown that those conditions existed in British North America, the Declaration concludes that "these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved."

Although Congress had adopted the Declaration submitted by the Committee of Five, the committee's task was not yet completed. Congress had also directed that the committee supervise the printing of the adopted document. The first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were turned out from the shop of John Dunlap, official printer to the Congress.

After the Declaration had been adopted, the committee took to Dunlap the manuscript document, possibly Jefferson's "fair copy" of his rough draft.

On the morning of July 5, copies were dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops. Also on July 5, a copy of the printed version of the approved Declaration was inserted into the "rough journal" of the Continental Congress for July 4.

The text was followed by the words "Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest. Charles Thomson, Secretary." It is not known how many copies John Dunlap printed on his busy night of July 4. There are 24 copies known to exist of what is commonly referred to as "the Dunlap broadside," 17 owned by American institutions, 2 by British institutions, and 5 by private owners.

The Engrossed Declaration

On July 9 the action of Congress was officially approved by the New York Convention. All 13 colonies had now signified their approval. On July 19, therefore, Congress was able to order that the Declaration be "fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile [sic] of 'The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America,' and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress."

Engrossing is the process of preparing an official document in a large, clear hand. Timothy Matlack was probably the engrosser of the Declaration. He was a Pennsylvanian who had assisted the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson, in his duties for over a year and who had written out George Washington's commission as commanding general of the Continental Army.

Matlack set to work with pen, ink, parchment, and practiced hand, and finally, on August 2, the journal of the Continental Congress records that "The declaration of independence being engrossed and compared at the table was signed." One of the most widely held misconceptions about the Declaration is that it was signed on July 4, 1776, by all the delegates in attendance.

John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the first to sign the sheet of parchment measuring 24¼ by 29¾ inches. He used a bold signature centered below the text.

In accordance with prevailing custom, the other delegates began to sign at the right below the text, their signatures arranged according to the geographic location of the states they represented. New Hampshire, the northernmost state, began the list, and Georgia, the southernmost, ended it. Eventually 56 delegates signed, although all were not present on August 2.

Among the later signers were Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton, who found that he had no room to sign with the other New Hampshire delegates. A few delegates who voted for adoption of the Declaration on July 4 were never to sign in spite of the July 19 order of Congress that the engrossed document "be signed by every member of Congress."

Nonsigners included John Dickinson, who clung to the idea of reconciliation with Britain, and Robert R. Livingston, one of the Committee of Five, who thought the Declaration was premature.

Parchment and Ink

Over the next 200 years, the nation whose birth was announced with a Declaration "fairly engrossed on parchment" was to show immense growth in area, population, economic power, and social complexity and a lasting commitment to a testing and strengthening of its democracy. But what of the parchment itself? How was it to fare over the course of two centuries?

In the chronicle of the Declaration as a physical object, three themes necessarily entwine themselves: the relationship between the physical aging of the parchment and the steps taken to preserve it from deterioration; the relationship between the parchment and the copies that were made from it; and finally, the often dramatic story of the travels of the parchment during wartime and to its various homes.

Chronologically, it is helpful to divide the history of the Declaration after its signing into five main periods, some more distinct than others. The first period consists of the early travels of the parchment and lasts until 1814. The second period relates to the long sojourn of the Declaration in Washington, DC, from 1814 until its brief return to Philadelphia for the 1876 Centennial. The third period covers the years 1877-1921, a period marked by increasing concern for the deterioration of the document and the need for a fitting and permanent Washington home. Except for an interlude during World War II, the fourth and fifth periods cover the time the Declaration rested in the Library of Congress from 1921 to 1952 and in the National Archives from 1952 to the present.

Early Travels, 1776-1814

Once the Declaration was signed, the document probably accompanied the Continental Congress as that body traveled during the uncertain months and years of the Revolution. Initially, like other parchment documents of the time, the Declaration was probably stored in a rolled format. Each time the document was used, it would have been unrolled and re-rolled. This action, as well as holding the curled parchment flat, doubtless took its toll on the ink and on the parchment surface through abrasion and flexing. The acidity inherent in the iron gall ink used by Timothy Matlack allowed the ink to "bite" into the surface of the parchment, thus contributing to the ink's longevity, but the rolling and unrolling of the parchment still presented many hazards.

After the signing ceremony on August 2, 1776, the Declaration was most likely filed in Philadelphia in the office of Charles Thomson, who served as the Secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789. On December 12, threatened by the British, Congress adjourned and reconvened 8 days later in Baltimore, MD. A light wagon carried the Declaration to its new home, where it remained until its return to Philadelphia in March of 1777.

On January 18, 1777, while the Declaration was still in Baltimore, Congress, bolstered by military successes at Trenton and Princeton, ordered the second official printing of the document. The July 4 printing had included only the names of John Hancock and Charles Thomson, and even though the first printing had been promptly circulated to the states, the names of subsequent signers were kept secret for a time because of fear of British reprisals. By its order of January 18, however, Congress required that "an authentic copy of the Declaration of Independency, with the names of the members of Congress subscribing to the same, be sent to each of the United States, and that they be desired to have the same put upon record." The "authentic copy" was duly printed, complete with signers' names, by Mary Katherine Goddard in Baltimore.

Assuming that the Declaration moved with the Congress, it would have been back in Philadelphia from March to September 1777. On September 27, it would have moved to Lancaster, PA, for 1 day only. From September 30, 1777, through June 1778, the Declaration would have been kept in the courthouse at York, PA. From July 1778 to June 1783, it would have had a long stay back in Philadelphia. In 1783, it would have been at Princeton, NJ, from June to November, and then, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the Declaration would have been moved to Annapolis, MD, where it stayed until October 1784. For the months of November and December 1784, it would have been at Trenton, NJ. Then in 1785, when Congress met in New York, the Declaration was housed in the old New York City Hall, where it probably remained until 1790 (although when Pierre L'Enfant was remodeling the building for the convening of the First Federal Congress, it might have been temporarily removed).

In July 1789 the First Congress under the new Constitution created the Department of Foreign Affairs and directed that its Secretary should have "the custody and charge of all records, books and papers" kept by the department of the same name under the old government. On July 24 Charles Thomson retired as Secretary of the Congress and, upon the order of President George Washington, surrendered the Declaration to Roger Alden, Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs. In September 1789 the name of the department was changed to the Department of State. Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration, returned from France to assume his duties as the first Secretary of State in March of 1790. Appropriately, those duties now included custody of the Declaration.

In July 1790 Congress provided for a permanent capital to be built among the woodlands and swamps bordering the Potomac River. Meanwhile, the temporary seat of government was to return to Philadelphia. Congress also provided that "prior to the first Monday in December next, all offices attached to the seat of the government of the United States" should be removed to Philadelphia. The Declaration was therefore back in Philadelphia by the close of 1790. It was housed in various buildings--on Market Street, at Arch and Sixth, and at Fifth and Chestnut.

In 1800, by direction of President John Adams, the Declaration and other government records were moved from Philadelphia to the new federal capital now rising in the District of Columbia. To reach its new home, the Declaration traveled down the Delaware River and Bay, out into the ocean, into the Chesapeake Bay, and up the Potomac to Washington, completing its longest water journey.

For about 2 months the Declaration was housed in buildings built for the use of the Treasury Department. For the next year it was housed in one of the "Seven Buildings" then standing at Nineteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Its third home before 1814 was in the old War Office Building on Seventeenth Street.

In August 1814, the United States being again at war with Great Britain, a British fleet appeared in the Chesapeake Bay. Secretary of State James Monroe rode out to observe the landing of British forces along the Patuxent River in Maryland. A message from Monroe alerted State Department officials, in particular a clerk named Stephen Pleasonton, of the imminent threat to the capital city and, of course, the government's official records. Pleasonton "proceeded to purchase coarse linen, and cause it to be made into bags of convenient size, in which the gentlemen of the office" packed the precious books and records including the Declaration.

A cartload of records was then taken up the Potomac River to an unused gristmill belonging to Edgar Patterson. The structure was located on the Virginia side of the Potomac, about 2 miles upstream from Georgetown. Here the Declaration and the other records remained, probably overnight. Pleasonton, meanwhile, asked neighboring farmers for the use of their wagons. On August 24, the day of the British attack on Washington, the Declaration was on its way to Leesburg, VA. That evening, while the White House and other government buildings were burning, the Declaration was stored 35 miles away at Leesburg.

The Declaration remained safe at a private home in Leesburg for an interval of several weeks--in fact, until the British had withdrawn their troops from Washington and their fleet from the Chesapeake Bay. In September 1814 the Declaration was returned to the national capital. With the exception of a trip to Philadelphia for the Centennial and to Fort Knox during World War II, it has remained there ever since.

Washington, 1814-76

The Declaration remained in Washington from September 1814 to May 1841. It was housed in four locations. From 1814 to 1841, it was kept in three different locations as the State Department records were shifted about the growing city. The last of these locations was a brick building that, it was later observed, "offered no security against fire."

One factor that had no small effect on the physical condition of the Declaration was recognized as interest in reproductions of the Declaration increased as the nation grew. Two early facsimile printings of the Declaration were made during the second decade of the 19th century: those of Benjamin Owen Tyler (1818) and John Binns (1819).

Both facsimiles used decorative and ornamental elements to enhance the text of the Declaration. Richard Rush, who was Acting Secretary of State in 1817, remarked on September 10 of that year about the Tyler copy: "The foregoing copy of the Declaration of Independence has been collated with the original instrument and found correct. I have myself examined the signatures to each. Those executed by Mr. Tyler, are curiously exact imitations, so much so, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the closest scrutiny to distinguish them, were it not for the hand of time, from the originals." Rush's reference to "the hand of time" suggests that the signatures were already fading in 1817, only 40 years after they were first affixed to the parchment.

One later theory as to why the Declaration was aging so soon after its creation stems from the common 18th-century practice of taking "press copies." Press copies were made by placing a damp sheet of thin paper on a manuscript and pressing it until a portion of the ink was transferred. The thin paper copy was retained in the same manner as a modern carbon copy.

The ink was reimposed on a copper plate, which was then etched so that copies could be run off the plate on a press. This "wet transfer" method may have been used by William J. Stone when in 1820 he was commissioned by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to make a facsimile of the entire Declaration, signatures as well as text.

By June 5, 1823, almost exactly 47 years after Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration, the (Washington) National Intelligencer was able to report "that Mr. William J. Stone, a respectable and enterprising Engraver of this City, has, after a labor of three years, completed a fac simile of the original of the Declaration of Independence, now in the archives of the government; that it is executed with the greatest exactness and fidelity; and that the Department of State has become the purchaser of the plate."

As the Intelligencer went on to observe: "We are very glad to hear this, for the original of that paper which ought to be immortal and imperishable, by being so much handled by copyists and curious visitors, might receive serious injury. The facility of multiplying copies of it now possessed by the Department of State will render further exposure of the original unnecessary." The language of the newspaper report, like that of Rush's earlier comment, would seem to indicate some fear of the deterioration of the Declaration even prior to Stone's work.

The copies made from Stone's copperplate established the clear visual image of the Declaration for generations of Americans. The 200 official parchment copies struck from the Stone plate carry the identification "Engraved by W. J. Stone for the Department of State, by order" in the upper left corner followed by "of J. Q. Adams, Sec. of State July 4th 1823." in the upper right corner. "Unofficial" copies that were struck later do not have the identification at the top of the document. Instead the engraver identified his work by engraving "W. J. Stone SC. Washn." near the lower left corner and burnishing out the earlier identification.

The longest of the early sojourns of the Declaration was from 1841 to 1876. Daniel Webster was Secretary of State in 1841. On June 11 he wrote to Commissioner of Patents Henry L. Ellsworth, who was then occupying a new building (now the National Portrait Gallery), that "having learned that there is in the new building appropriated to the Patent Office suitable accommodations for the safe-keeping, as well as the exhibition of the various articles now deposited in this Department, and usually, exhibited to visitors . . . I have directed them to be transmitted to you." An inventory accompanied the letter. Item 6 was the Declaration.

The "new building" was a white stone structure at Seventh and F Streets. The Declaration and Washington's commission as commander in chief were mounted together in a single frame and hung in a white painted hall opposite a window offering exposure to sunlight. There they were to remain on exhibit for 35 years, even after the Patent Office separated from the State Department to become administratively a part of the Interior Department. This prolonged exposure to sunlight accelerated the deterioration of the ink and parchment of the Declaration, which was approaching 100 years of age toward the end of this period.

During the years that the Declaration was exhibited in the Patent Office, the combined effects of aging, sunlight, and fluctuating temperature and relative humidity took their toll on the document. Occasionally, writers made somewhat negative comments on the appearance of the Declaration. An observer in the United States Magazine (October 1856) went so far as to refer to "that old looking paper with the fading ink."

John B. Ellis remarked in The Sights and Secrets of the National Capital (Chicago, 1869) that "it is old and yellow, and the ink is fading from the paper." An anonymous writer in the Historical Magazine (October 1870) wrote: "The original manuscript of the Declaration of Independence and of Washington's Commission, now in the United States Patent Office at Washington, D.C., are said to be rapidly fading out so that in a few years, only the naked parchment will remain.

Already, nearly all the signatures attached to the Declaration of Independence are entirely effaced." In May 1873 the Historical Magazine published an official statement by Mortimer Dormer Leggett, Commissioner of Patents, who admitted that "many of the names to the Declaration are already illegible."

The technology of a new age and the interest in historical roots engendered by the approaching Centennial focused new interest on the Declaration in the 1870s and brought about a brief change of home.

The Centennial and the Debate Over Preservation, 1876-1921

In 1876 the Declaration traveled to Philadelphia, where it was on exhibit for the Centennial National Exposition from May to October. Philadelphia's Mayor William S. Stokley was entrusted by President Ulysses S. Grant with temporary custody of the Declaration. The Public Ledger for May 8, 1876, noted that it was in Independence Hall "framed and glazed for protection, and . . . deposited in a fireproof safe especially designed for both preservation and convenient display. [When the outer doors of the safe were opened, the parchment was visible behind a heavy plate-glass inner door; the doors were closed at night.] Its aspect is of course faded and time-worn.

The text is fully legible, but the major part of the signatures are so pale as to be only dimly discernible in the strongest light, a few remain wholly readable, and some are wholly invisible, the spaces which contained them presenting only a blank."

Other descriptions made at Philadelphia were equally unflattering: "scarce bears trace of the signatures the execution of which made fifty-six names imperishable," "aged-dimmed." But on the Fourth of July, after the text was read aloud to a throng on Independence Square by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia (grandson of the signer Richard Henry Lee), "The faded and crumbling manuscript, held together by a simple frame was then exhibited to the crowd and was greeted with cheer after cheer."

By late summer the Declaration's physical condition had become a matter of public concern. On August 3, 1876, Congress adopted a joint resolution providing "that a commission, consisting of the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Librarian of Congress be empowered to have resort to such means as will most effectually restore the writing of the original manuscript of the Declaration of Independence, with the signatures appended thereto."

This resolution had actually been introduced as early as January 5, 1876. One candidate for the task of restoration was William J. Canby, an employee of the Washington Gas Light Company. On April 13 Canby had written to the Librarian of Congress: "I have had over thirty years experience in handling the pen upon parchment and in that time, as an expert, have engrossed hundreds of ornamental, special documents." Canby went on to suggest that "the only feasible plan is to replenish the original with a supply of ink, which has been destroyed by the action of light and time, with an ink well known to be, for all practical purposes, imperishable."

The commission did not, however, take any action at that time. After the conclusion of the Centennial exposition, attempts were made to secure possession of the Declaration for Philadelphia, but these failed and the parchment was returned to the Patent Office in Washington, where it had been since 1841, even though that office had become a part of the Interior Department. On April 11, 1876, Robert H. Duell, Commissioner of Patents, had written to Zachariah Chandler, Secretary of the Interior, suggesting that "the Declaration of Independence, and the commission of General Washington, associated with it in the same frame, belong to your Department as heirlooms.

Chandler appears to have ignored this claim, for in an exchange of letters with Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, it was agreed-with the approval of President Grant-to move the Declaration into the new, fireproof building that the State Department shared with the War and Navy Departments (now the Old Executive Office Building).

On March 3, 1877, the Declaration was placed in a cabinet on the eastern side of the State Department library, where it was to be exhibited for 17 years. It may be noted that not only was smoking permitted in the library, but the room contained an open fireplace. Nevertheless this location turned out to be safer than the premises just vacated; much of the Patent Office was gutted in a fire that occurred a few months later.

On May 5, 1880, the commission that had been appointed almost 4 years earlier came to life again in response to a call from the Secretary of the Interior. It requested that William B. Rogers, president of the National Academy of Sciences appoint a committee of experts to consider "whether such restoration [of the Declaration] be expedient or practicable and if so in what way the object can best be accomplished."

The duly appointed committee reported on January 7, 1881, that Stone used the "wet transfer" method in the creation of his facsimile printing of 1823, that the process had probably removed some of the original ink, and that chemical restoration methods were "at best imperfect and uncertain in their results." The committee concluded, therefore, that "it is not expedient to attempt to restore the manuscript by chemical means."

The group of experts then recommended that "it will be best either to cover the present receptacle of the manuscript with an opaque lid or to remove the manuscript from its frame and place it in a portfolio, where it may be protected from the action of light." Finally, the committee recommended that "no press copies of any part of it should in future be permitted."

Recent study of the Declaration by conservators at the National Archives has raised doubts that a "wet transfer" took place. Proof of this occurrence, however, cannot be verified or denied strictly by modern examination methods. No documentation prior to the 1881 reference has been found to support the theory; therefore we may never know if Stone actually performed the procedure.

Little, if any, action was taken as a result of the 1881 report. It was not until 1894 that the State Department announced: "The rapid fading of the text of the original Declaration of Independence and the deterioration of the parchment upon which it is engrossed, from exposure to light and lapse of time, render it impracticable for the Department longer to exhibit it or to handle it. For the secure preservation of its present condition, so far as may be possible, it has been carefully wrapped and placed flat in a steel case."

A new plate for engravings was made by the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1895, and in 1898 a photograph was made for the Ladies' Home Journal. On this latter occasion, the parchment was noted as "still in good legible condition" although "some of the signatures" were "necessarily blurred."

On April 14, 1903, Secretary of State John Hay solicited again the help of the National Academy of Sciences in providing "such recommendations as may seem practicable . . . touching [the Declaration's] preservation." Hay went on to explain: "It is now kept out of the light, sealed between two sheets of glass, presumably proof against air, and locked in a steel safe. I am unable to say, however, that, in spite of these precautions, observed for the past ten years, the text is not continuing to fade and the parchment to wrinkle and perhaps to break."

On April 24 a committee of the academy reported its findings. Summarizing the physical history of the Declaration, the report stated: "The instrument has suffered very seriously from the very harsh treatment to which it was exposed in the early years of the Republic. Folding and rolling have creased the parchment. The wet press-copying operation to which it was exposed about 1820, for the purpose of producing a facsimile copy, removed a large portion of the ink. Subsequent exposure to the action of light for more than thirty years, while the instrument was placed on exhibition, has resulted in the fading of the ink, particularly in the signatures. The present method of caring for the instrument seems to be the best that can be suggested."

The committee added its own "opinion that the present method of protecting the instrument should be continued; that it should be kept in the dark and dry as possible, and never placed on exhibition." Secretary Hay seems to have accepted the committee's recommendation; in the following year, William H. Michael, author of The Declaration of Independence (Washington, 1904), recorded that the Declaration was "locked and sealed, by order of Secretary Hay, and is no longer shown to anyone except by his direction."

World War I came and went. Then, on April 21, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued an order creating yet another committee: "A Committee is hereby appointed to study the proper steps that should be taken for the permanent and effective preservation from deterioration and from danger from fire, or other form of destruction, of those documents of supreme value which under the law are deposited with the Secretary of State. The inquiry will include the question of display of certain of these documents for the benefit of the patriotic public."

On May 5, 1920, the new committee reported on the physical condition of the safes that housed the Declaration and the Constitution. It declared: "The safes are constructed of thin sheets of steel. They are not fireproof nor would they offer much obstruction to an evil-disposed person who wished to break into them." About the physical condition of the Declaration, the committee stated: "We believe the fading can go no further. We see no reason why the original document should not be exhibited if the parchment be laid between two sheets of glass, hermetically sealed at the edges and exposed only to diffused light."

The committee also made some important "supplementary recommendations." It noted that on March 3, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt had directed that certain records relating to the Continental Congress be turned over by the Department of State to the Library of Congress: "This transfer was made under a provision of an Act of February 25, 1903, that any Executive Department may turn over to the Library of Congress books, maps, or other material no longer needed for the use of the Department."

The committee recommended that the remaining papers, including the Declaration and the Constitution, be similarly given over to the custody of the Library of Congress. For the Declaration, therefore, two important changes were in the offing: a new home and the possibility of exhibition to "the patriotic public."

The Library of Congress . . . and Fort Knox, 1921-52

There was no action on the recommendations of 1920 until after the Harding administration took office. On September 28, 1921, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes addressed the new President: "I enclose an executive order for your signature, if you approve, transferring to the custody of the Library of Congress the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States which are now in the custody of this Department. . . . I make this recommendation because in the Library of Congress these monuments will be in the custody of experts skilled in archival preservation, in a building of modern fireproof construction, where they can safely be exhibited to the many visitors who now desire to see them."

President Warren G. Harding agreed. On September 29, 1921, he issued the Executive order authorizing the transfer. The following day Secretary Hughes sent a copy of the order to Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam, stating that he was "prepared to turn the documents over to you when you are ready to receive them."

Putnam was both ready and eager. He presented himself forthwith at the State Department. The safes were opened, and the Declaration and the Constitution were carried off to the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill in the Library's "mail wagon," cushioned by a pile of leather U.S. mail sacks. Upon arrival, the two national treasures were placed in a safe in Putnam's office.

On October 3, Putnam took up the matter of a permanent location. In a memorandum to the superintendent of the Library building and grounds, Putnam proceeded from the premise that "in the Library" the documents "might be treated in such a way as, while fully safe-guarding them and giving them distinction, they should be open to inspection by the public at large." The memorandum discussed the need for a setting "safe, dignified, adequate, and in every way suitable . . . Material less than bronze would be unworthy. The cost must be considerable."

The Librarian then requested the sum of $12,000 for his purpose. The need was urgent because the new Bureau of the Budget was about to print forthcoming fiscal year estimates. There was therefore no time to make detailed architectural plans. Putnam told an appropriations committee on January 16, 1922, just what he had in mind. "There is a way . . . we could construct, say, on the second floor on the western side in that long open gallery a railed enclosure, material of bronze, where these documents, with one or two auxiliary documents leading up to them, could be placed, where they need not be touched by anybody but where a mere passer-by could see them, where they could be set in permanent bronze frames and where they could be protected from the natural light, lighted only by soft incandescent lamps.

The result could be achieved and you would have something every visitor to Washington would wish to tell about when he returned and who would regard it, as the newspapermen are saying, with keen interest as a sort of 'shrine.'" The Librarian's imaginative presentation was successful: The sum of $12,000 was appropriated and approved on March 20, 1922.

Before long, the "sort of 'shrine'" was being designed by Francis H. Bacon, whose brother Henry was the architect of the Lincoln Memorial. Materials used included different kinds of marble from New York, Vermont, Tennessee, the Greek island of Tinos, and Italy. The marbles surrounding the manuscripts were American; the floor and balustrade were made of foreign marbles to correspond with the material used in the rest of the Library. The Declaration was to be housed in a frame of gold-plated bronze doors and covered with double panes of plate glass with specially prepared gelatin films between the plates to exclude the harmful rays of light. A 24-hour guard would provide protection.

On February 28, 1924, the shrine was dedicated in the presence of President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Secretary Hughes, and other distinguished guests. Not a word was spoken during a moving ceremony in which Putnam fitted the Declaration into its frame. There were no speeches. Two stanzas of America were sung. In Putnam's words: "The impression on the audience proved the emotional potency of documents animate with a great tradition."

With only one interruption, the Declaration hung on the wall of the second floor of the Great Hall of the Library of Congress until December 1952. During the prosperity of the 1920s and the Depression of the 1930s, millions of people visited the shrine. But the threat of war and then war itself caused a prolonged interruption in the steady stream of visitors.

On April 30, 1941, worried that the war raging in Europe might engulf the United States, the newly appointed Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. The Librarian was concerned for the most precious of the many objects in his charge. He wrote "to enquire whether space might perhaps be found" at the Bullion Depository in Fort Knox for his most valuable materials, including the Declaration, "in the unlikely event that it becomes necessary to remove them from Washington." Secretary Morgenthau replied that space would indeed be made available as necessary for the "storage of such of the more important papers as you might designate."

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On December 23, the Declaration and the Constitution were removed from the shrine and placed between two sheets of acid-free manilla paper. The documents were then carefully wrapped in a container of all-rag neutral millboard and placed in a specially designed bronze container. It was late at night when the container was finally secured with padlocks on each side. Preparations were resumed on the day after Christmas, when the Attorney General ruled that the Librarian needed no "further authority from the Congress or the President" to take such action as he deemed necessary for the "proper protection and preservation" of the documents in his charge.

The packing process continued under constant armed guard. The container was finally sealed with lead and packed in a heavy box; the whole weighed some 150 pounds. It was a far cry from the simple linen bag of the summer of 1814.

At about 5 p.m. the box, along with other boxes containing vital records, was loaded into an armed and escorted truck, taken to Union Station, and loaded into a compartment of the Pullman sleeper Eastlake. Armed Secret Service agents occupied the neighboring compartments. After departing from Washington at 6:30 p.m., the Declaration traveled to Louisville, KY, arriving at 10:30 a.m., December 27, 1941. More Secret Service agents and a cavalry troop of the 13th Armored Division met the train, convoyed its precious contents to the Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, and placed the Declaration in compartment 24 in the outer tier on the ground level.

The Declaration was periodically examined during its sojourn at Fort Knox. One such examination in 1942 found that the Declaration had become detached in part from its mount, including the upper right corner, which had been stuck down with copious amounts of glue. In his journal for May 14, 1942, Verner W. Clapp, a Library of Congress official, noted: "At one time also (about January 12, 1940) an attempt had been made to reunite the detached upper right hand corner to the main portion by means of a strip of 'scotch' cellulose tape which was still in place, discolored to a molasses color. In the various mending efforts glue had been splattered in two places on the obverse of the document."

The opportunity was taken to perform conservation treatment in order to stabilize and rejoin the upper right corner. Under great secrecy, George Stout and Evelyn Erlich, both of the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, traveled to Fort Knox. Over a period of 2 days, they performed mending of small tears, removed excess adhesive and the "scotch" tape, and rejoined the detached upper right corner.

Finally, in 1944, the military authorities assured the Library of Congress that all danger of enemy attack had passed. On September 19, the documents were withdrawn from Fort Knox. On Sunday, October 1, at 11:30 a.m., the doors of the Library were opened. The Declaration was back in its shrine.

With the return of peace, the keepers of the Declaration were mindful of the increasing technological expertise available to them relating to the preservation of the parchment. In this they were readily assisted by the National Bureau of Standards, which even before World War II, had researched the preservation of the Declaration. The problem of shielding it from harsh light, for example, had in 1924 led to the insertion of a sheet of yellow gelatin between the protective plates of glass. Yet this procedure lessened the visibility of an already faded parchment. Could not some improvement be made?

Following reports of May 5, 1949, on studies in which the Library staff, members of the National Bureau of Standards, and representatives of a glass manufacturer had participated, new recommendations were made. In 1951 the Declaration was sealed in a thermopane enclosure filled with properly humidified helium. The exhibit case was equipped with a filter to screen out damaging light. The new enclosure also had the effect of preventing harm from air pollution, a growing peril.

Soon after, however, the Declaration was to make one more move, the one to its present home.

The National Archives, 1952 to the Present

In 1933, while the Depression gripped the nation, President Hoover laid the cornerstone for the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. He announced that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution would eventually be kept in the impressive structure that was to occupy the site. Indeed, it was for their keeping and display that the exhibition hall in the National Archives had been designed.

Two large murals were painted for its walls. In one, Thomas Jefferson is depicted presenting the Declaration to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress while members of that Revolutionary body look on. In the second, James Madison is portrayed submitting the Constitution to George Washington.

The final transfer of these special documents did not, however, take place until almost 20 years later. In October 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed the first Archivist of the United States, Robert Digges Wimberly Connor. The President told Connor that "valuable historic documents," such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, would reside in the National Archives Building.

The Library of Congress, especially Librarian Herbert Putnam, objected. In a meeting with the President 2 months after his appointment, Connor explained to Roosevelt how the documents came to be in the Library and that Putnam felt another Act of Congress was necessary in order for them to be transferred to the Archives. Connor eventually told the President that it would be better to leave the matter alone until Putnam retired.

When Herbert Putnam retired on April 5, 1939, Archibald MacLeish was nominated to replace him. MacLeish agreed with Roosevelt and Connor that the two important documents belonged in the National Archives. Because of World War II, during much of which the Declaration was stored at Fort Knox, and Connor's resignation in 1941, MacLeish was unable to enact the transfer. By 1944, when the Declaration and Constitution returned to Washington from Fort Knox, MacLeish had been appointed Assistant Secretary of State.

Solon J. Buck, Connor's successor as Archivist of the United States (1941-48), felt that the documents were in good hands at the Library of Congress. His successor, Wayne Grover, disagreed. Luther Evans, the Librarian of Congress appointed by President Truman in June 1945, shared Grover's opinion that the documents should be transferred to the Archives.

In 1951 the two men began working with their staff members and legal advisers to have the documents transferred. The Archives position was that the documents were federal records and therefore covered by the Federal Records Act of 1950, which was "paramount to and took precedence over" the 1922 act that had appropriated money for the shrine at the Library of Congress. Luther Evans agreed with this line of reasoning, but he emphasized getting the approval of the President and the Joint Committee on the Library.

Senator Theodore H. Green, Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, agreed that the transfer should take place but stipulated that it would be necessary to have his committee act on the matter. Evans went to the April 30, 1952, committee meeting alone. There is no formal record of what was said at the meeting, except that the Joint Committee on the Library ordered that the documents be transferred to the National Archives. Not only was the Archives the official depository of the government's records, it was also, in the judgment of the committee, the most nearly bombproof building in Washington.

At 11 a.m., December 13, 1952, Brigadier General Stoyte O. Ross, commanding general of the Air Force Headquarters Command, formally received the documents at the Library of Congress. Twelve members of the Armed Forces Special Police carried the 6 pieces of parchment in their helium-filled glass cases, enclosed in wooden crates, down the Library steps through a line of 88 servicewomen. An armored Marine Corps personnel carrier awaited the documents. Once they had been placed on mattresses inside the vehicle, they were accompanied by a color guard, ceremonial troops, the Army Band, the Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps, two light tanks, four servicemen carrying submachine guns, and a motorcycle escort in a parade down Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues to the Archives Building.

Both sides of the parade route were lined by Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine, and Air Force personnel. At 11:35 a.m. General Ross and the 12 special policemen arrived at the National Archives Building, carried the crates up the steps, and formally delivered them into the custody of Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover. (Already at the National Archives was the Bill of Rights, protectively sealed according to the modern techniques used a year earlier for the Declaration and Constitution.)

The formal enshrining ceremony on December 15, 1952, was equally impressive. Chief Justice of the United States Fred M. Vinson presided over the ceremony, which was attended by officials of more than 100 national civic, patriotic, religious, veterans, educational, business, and labor groups. After the invocation by the Reverend Frederick Brown Harris, chaplain of the Senate, Governor Elbert N. Carvel of Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution, called the roll of states in the order in which they ratified the Constitution or were admitted to the Union.

As each state was called, a servicewoman carrying the state flag entered the Exhibition Hall and remained at attention in front of the display cases circling the hall. President Harry S. Truman, the featured speaker, said:

"The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are now assembled in one place for display and safekeeping. . . . We are engaged here today in a symbolic act. We are enshrining these documents for future ages. . . . This magnificent hall has been constructed to exhibit them, and the vault beneath, that we have built to protect them, is as safe from destruction as anything that the wit of modern man can devise. All this is an honorable effort, based upon reverence for the great past, and our generation can take just pride in it."

Senator Green briefly traced the history of the three documents, and then the Librarian of Congress and the Archivist of the United States jointly unveiled the shrine. Finally, Justice Vinson spoke briefly, the Reverend Bernard Braskamp, chaplain of the House of Representatives gave the benediction, the U.S. Marine Corps Band played the "Star Spangled Banner," the President was escorted from the hall, the 48 flagbearers marched out, and the ceremony was over.

(The story of the transfer of the documents is found in Milton O. Gustafson, " The Empty Shrine: The Transfer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to the National Archives," The American Archivist 39 (July 1976): 271-285.)

The present shrine provides an imposing home. The priceless documents stand at the center of a semicircle of display cases showing other important records of the growth of the United States. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights stand slightly elevated, under armed guard, in their bronze and marble shrine.

The Bill of Rights and two of the five leaves of the Constitution are displayed flat. Above them the Declaration of Independence is held impressively in an upright case constructed of ballistically tested glass and plastic laminate. Ultraviolet-light filters in the laminate give the inner layer a slightly greenish hue. At night, the documents are stored in an underground vault.

In 1987 the National Archives and Records Administration installed a $3 million camera and computerized system to monitor the condition of the three documents. The Charters Monitoring System was designed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to assess the state of preservation of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. It can detect any changes in readability due to ink flaking, off-setting of ink to glass, changes in document dimensions, and ink fading.

The system is capable of recording in very fine detail 1-inch square areas of documents and later retaking the pictures in exactly the same places and under the same conditions of lighting and charge-coupled device (CCD) sensitivity. (The CCD measures reflectivity.) Periodic measurements are compared to the baseline image to determine if changes or deterioration invisible to the human eye have taken place.

The Declaration has had many homes, from humble lodgings and government offices to the interiors of safes and great public displays. It has been carried in wagons, ships, a Pullman sleeper, and an armored vehicle. In its latest home, it has been viewed with respect by millions of people, everyone of whom has had thereby a brief moment, a private moment, to reflect on the meaning of democracy.

The nation to which the Declaration gave birth has had an immense impact on human history, and continues to do so. In telling the story of the parchment, it is appropriate to recall the words of poet and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish.

He described the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as "these fragile objects which bear so great a weight of meaning to our people." The story of the Declaration of Independence as a document can only be a part of the larger history, a history still unfolding, a "weight of meaning" constantly, challenged, strengthened, and redefined.

The 25 copies of the Dunlap broadside known to exist are dispersed among American and British institutions and private owners. The following are the current locations of the copies.

National Archives, Washington, DC
Library of Congress, Washington, DC (two copies)
Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (two copies)
Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia, PA
American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA
Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Scheide Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ [The Library is privately owned.]
New York Public Library, New York
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Chapin Library, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Yale University, New Haven, CT
American Independence Museum, Exeter, NH
Maine Historical Society, Portland, ME
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, IL
City of Dallas, City Hall, Dallas, TX
Declaration of Independence Road Trip [Norman Lear and David Hayden]
Private collector
Public Record Office, United Kingdom (two copies)

The locations given for the Declaration from 1776 to 1789 are based on the locations for meetings of the Continental and Confederation Congresses:

Philadelphia: August-December 1776
Baltimore: December 1776-March 1777
Philadelphia: March-September 1777
Lancaster, PA: September 27, 1777
York, PA: September 30, 1777-June 1778
Philadelphia: July 1778-June 1783
Princeton, NJ: June-November 1783
Annapolis, MD: November 1783-October 1784
Trenton, NJ: November-December 1784
New York: 1785-1790
Philadelphia: 1790-1800
Washington, DC (three locations): 1800-1814
Leesburg, VA: August-September 1814
Washington, DC (three locations): 1814-1841
Washington, DC (Patent Office Building): 1841-1876
Philadelphia: May-November 1876
Washington, DC (State, War, and Navy Building): 1877-1921
Washington, DC (Library of Congress): 1921-1941
Fort Knox*: 1941-1944
Washington, DC (Library of Congress): 1944-1952
Washington, DC (National Archives): 1952-present

*Except that the document was displayed on April 13, 1943, at the dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization.

As Moses Coit Tyler noted almost a century ago, no assessment of it can be complete without taking into account its extraordinary merits as a work of political prose style. Although many scholars have recognized those merits, there are surprisingly few sustained studies of the stylistic artistry of the Declaration.(1) This essay seeks to illuminate that artistry by probing the discourse microscopically--at the level of the sentence, phrase, word, and syllable. By approaching the Declaration in this way, we can shed light both on its literary qualities and on its rhetorical power as a work designed to convince a "candid world" that the American colonies were justified in seeking to establish themselves as an independent nation.(2)

The text of the Declaration can be divided into five sections--the introduction, the preamble, the indictment of George III, the denunciation of the British people, and the conclusion. Because space does not permit us to explicate each section in full detail, we shall select features from each that illustrate the stylistic artistry of the Declaration as a whole.(3)

The introduction consists of the first paragraph--a single, lengthy, periodic sentence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.(4)

Taken out of context, this sentence is so general it could be used as the introduction to a declaration by any "oppressed" people. Seen within its original context, however, it is a model of subtlety, nuance, and implication that works on several levels of meaning and allusion to orient readers toward a favorable view of America and to prepare them for the rest of the Declaration. From its magisterial opening phrase, which sets the American Revolution within the whole "course of human events," to its assertion that "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" entitle America to a "separate and equal station among the powers of the earth," to its quest for sanction from "the opinions of mankind," the introduction elevates the quarrel with England from a petty political dispute to a major event in the grand sweep of history. It dignifies the Revolution as a contest of principle and implies that the American cause has a special claim to moral legitimacy--all without mentioning England or America by name.

Rather than defining the Declaration's task as one of persuasion, which would doubtless raise the defenses of readers as well as imply that there was more than one publicly credible view of the British-American conflict, the introduction identifies the purpose of the Declaration as simply to "declare"--to announce publicly in explicit terms--the "causes" impelling America to leave the British empire. This gives the Declaration, at the outset, an aura of philosophical (in the eighteenth-century sense of the term) objectivity that it will seek to maintain throughout. Rather than presenting one side in a public controversy on which good and decent people could differ, the Declaration purports to do no more than a natural philosopher would do in reporting the causes of any physical event. The issue, it implies, is not one of interpretation but of observation.

The most important word in the introduction is "necessary," which in the eighteenth century carried strongly deterministic overtones. To say an act was necessary implied that it was impelled by fate or determined by the operation of inextricable natural laws and was beyond the control of human agents. Thus Chambers's Cyclopedia defined "necessary" as "that which cannot but be, or cannot be otherwise." "The common notion of necessity and impossibility," Jonathan Edwards wrote in Freedom of the Will, "implies something that frustrates endeavor or desire. . . . That is necessary in the original and proper sense of the word, which is, or will be, notwithstanding all supposable opposition." Characterizing the Revolution as necessary suggested that it resulted from constraints that operated with lawlike force throughout the material universe and within the sphere of human action. The Revolution was not merely preferable, defensible, or justifiable. It was as inescapable, as inevitable, as unavoidable within the course of human events as the motions of the tides or the changing of the seasons within the course of natural events.

Investing the Revolution with connotations of necessity was particularly important because, according to the law of nations, recourse to war was lawful only when it became "necessary"--only when amicable negotiation had failed and all other alternatives for settling the differences between two states had been exhausted. Nor was the burden of necessity limited to monarchs and established nations. At the start of the English Civil War in 1642, Parliament defended its recourse to military action against Charles I in a lengthy declaration demonstrating the "Necessity to take up Arms."

Following this tradition, in July 1775 the Continental Congress issued its own Declaration Setting Forth the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms. When, a year later, Congress decided the colonies could no longer retain their liberty within the British empire, it adhered to long-established rhetorical convention by describing independence as a matter of absolute and inescapable necessity.(6) Indeed, the notion of necessity was so important that in addition to appearing in the introduction of the Declaration, it was invoked twice more at crucial junctures in the rest of the text and appeared frequently in other congressional papers after July 4, 1776.

Labeling the Americans "one people" and the British "another" was also laden with implication and performed several important strategic functions within the Declaration. First, because two alien peoples cannot be made one, it reinforced the notion that breaking the "political bands" with England was a necessary step in the course of human events.

America and England were already separated by the more basic fact that they had become two different peoples. The gulf between them was much more than political; it was intellectual, social, moral, cultural and, according to the principles of nature, could no more be repaired, as Thomas Paine said, than one could "restore to us the time that is past" or "give to prostitution its former innocence." To try to perpetuate a purely political connection would be "forced and unnatural," "repugnant to reason, to the universal order of things."

Second, once it is granted that Americans and Englishmen are two distinct peoples, the conflict between them is less likely to be seen as a civil war. The Continental Congress knew America could not withstand Britain's military might without foreign assistance. But they also knew America could not receive assistance as long as the colonies were fighting a civil war as part of the British empire. To help the colonies would constitute interference in Great Britain's internal affairs.

As Samuel Adams explained, "no foreign Power can consistently yield Comfort to Rebels, or enter into any kind of Treaty with these Colonies till they declare themselves free and independent." The crucial factor in opening the way for foreign aid was the act of declaring independence. But by defining America and England as two separate peoples, the Declaration reinforced the perception that the conflict was not a civil war, thereby, as Congress noted in its debates on independence, making it more "consistent with European delicacy for European powers to treat with us, or even to receive an Ambassador."

Third, defining the Americans as a separate people in the introduction eased the task of invoking the right of revolution in the preamble. That right, according to eighteenth-century revolutionary principles, could be invoked only in the most dire of circumstances--when "resistance was absolutely necessary in order to preserve the nation from slavery, misery, and ruin"--and then only by "the Body of the People." If America and Great Britain were seen as one people, Congress could not justify revolution against the British government for the simple reason that the body of the people (of which the Americans would be only one part) did not support the American cause.

For America to move against the government in such circumstances would not be a justifiable act of resistance but "a sort of Sedition, Tumult, and War . . . aiming only at the satisfaction of private Lust, without regard to the public Good." By defining the Americans as a separate people, Congress could more readily satisfy the requirement for invoking the right of revolution that "the whole Body of Subjects" rise up against the government "to rescue themselves from the most violent and illegal oppressions."

Like the introduction, the next section of the Declaration--usually referred to as the preamble--is universal in tone and scope. It contains no explicit reference to the British- American conflict, but outlines a general philosophy of government that makes revolution justifiable, even meritorious:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Like the rest of the Declaration, the preamble is "brief, free of verbiage, a model of clear, concise, simple statement."

It capsulizes in five sentences--202--words what it took John Locke thousands of words to explain in his Second Treatise of Government. Each word is chosen and placed to achieve maximum impact. Each clause is indispensable to the progression of thought. Each sentence is carefully constructed internally and in relation to what precedes and follows. In its ability to compress complex ideas into a brief, clear statement, the preamble is a paradigm of eighteenth-century Enlightenment prose style, in which purity, simplicity, directness, precision, and, above all, perspicuity were the highest rhetorical and literary virtues.

One word follows another with complete inevitability of sound and meaning. Not one word can be moved or replaced without disrupting the balance and harmony of the entire preamble.

The stately and dignified tone of the preamble--like that of the introduction--comes partly from what the eighteenth century called Style Periodique, in which, as Hugh Blair explained in his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, "the sentences are composed of several members linked together, and hanging upon one another, so that the sense of the whole is not brought out till the close." This, Blair said, "is the most pompous, musical, and oratorical manner of composing" and "gives an air of gravity and dignity to composition."

The gravity and dignity of the preamble were reinforced by its conformance with the rhetorical precept that "when we aim at dignity or elevation, the sound [of each sentence] should be made to grow to the last; the longest members of the period, and the fullest and most sonorous words, should be reserved to the conclusion." None of the sentences of the preamble end on a single-syllable word; only one, the second (and least euphonious), ends on a two-syllable word. Of the other four, one ends with a four-syllable word ("security"), while three end with three-syllable words. Moreover, in each of the three-syllable words the closing syllable is at least a medium- length four-letter syllable, which helps bring the sentences to "a full and harmonious close."

It is unlikely that any of this was accidental. Thoroughly versed in classical oratory and rhetorical theory as well as in the belletristic treatises of his own time, Thomas Jefferson, draftsman of the Declaration, was a diligent student of rhythm, accent, timing, and cadence in discourse. This can be seen most clearly in his "Thoughts on English Prosody," a remarkable twenty-eight-page unpublished essay written in Paris during the fall of 1786. Prompted by a discussion on language with the Marquis de Chastellux at Monticello four years earlier, it was a careful inquiry designed "to find out the real circumstance which gives harmony to English prose and laws to those who make it."

Using roughly the same system of diacritical notation he had employed in 1776 in his reading draft of the Declaration, Jefferson systematically analyzed the patterns of accentuation in a wide range of English writers, including Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, Addison, Gray, and Garth. Although "Thoughts on English Prosody" deals with poetry, it displays Jefferson's keen sense of the interplay between sound and sense in language. There can be little doubt that, like many accomplished writers, he consciously composed for the ear as well as for the eye--a trait that is nowhere better illustrated than in the eloquent cadences of the preamble in the Declaration of Independence.

The preamble also has a powerful sense of structural unity. This is achieved partly by the latent chronological progression of thought, in which the reader is moved from the creation of mankind, to the institution of government, to the throwing off of government when it fails to protect the people's unalienable rights, to the creation of new government that will better secure the people's safety and happiness. This dramatic scenario, with its first act implicitly set in the Garden of Eden (where man was "created equal"), may, for some readers, have contained mythic overtones of humanity's fall from divine grace. At the very least, it gives an almost archetypal quality to the ideas of the preamble and continues the notion, broached in the introduction, that the American Revolution is a major development in "the course of human events."

Because of their concern with the philosophy of the Declaration, many modern scholars have dealt with the opening sentence of the preamble out of context, as if Jefferson and the Continental Congress intended it to stand alone. Seen in context, however, it is part of a series of five propositions that build upon one another through the first three sentences of the preamble to establish the right of revolution against tyrannical authority:

Proposition 1: All men are created equal.

Proposition 2: They [all men, from proposition 1] are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,

Proposition 3: Among these [man's unalienable rights, from proposition 2] are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,

Proposition 4: To secure these rights [man's unalienable rights, from propositions 2 and 3] governments are instituted among men.

Proposition 5: Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [securing man's unalienable rights, from propositions 2-4], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.

When we look at all five propositions, we see they are meant to be read together and have been meticulously written to achieve a specific rhetorical purpose. The first three lead into the fourth, which in turn leads into the fifth. And it is the fifth, proclaiming the right of revolution when a government becomes destructive of the people's unalienable rights, that is most crucial in the overall argument of the Declaration. The first four propositions are merely preliminary steps designed to give philosophical grounding to the fifth.

At first glance, these propositions appear to comprise what was known in the eighteenth century as a sorites--"a Way of Argument in which a great Number of Propositions are so linked together, that the Predicate of one becomes continually the Subject of the next following, until at last a Conclusion is formed by bringing together the Subject of the First Proposition and the Predicate of the last

Although the section of the preamble we have been considering is not a sorites (because it does not bring together the subject of the first proposition and the predicate of the last), its propositions are written in such a way as to take on the appearance of a logical demonstration.

They are so tightly interwoven linguistically that they seem to make up a sequence in which the final proposition--asserting the right of revolution--is logically derived from the first four propositions. This is accomplished partly by the mimicry of the form of a sorites and partly by the sheer number of propositions, the accumulation of which is reinforced by the slow, deliberate pace of the text and by the use of "that" to introduce each proposition.

There is also a step like progression from proposition to proposition, a progression that is accentuated by the skillful use of demonstrative pronouns to make each succeeding proposition appear to be an inevitable consequence of the preceding proposition. Although the preamble is the best known part of the Declaration today, it attracted considerably less attention in its own time.

For most eighteenth-century readers, it was an unobjectionable statement of commonplace political principles. As Jefferson explained years later, the purpose of the Declaration was "not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of . . . but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take."

Far from being a weakness of the preamble, the lack of new ideas was perhaps its greatest strength. If one overlooks the introductory first paragraph, the Declaration as a whole is structured along the lines of a deductive argument that can easily be put in syllogistic form:

Major premise:

When government deliberately seeks to reduce the people under absolute despotism, the people have a right, indeed a duty, to alter or abolish that form of government and to create new guards for their future security.

Minor premise:

The government of Great Britain has deliberately sought to reduce the American people under absolute despotism

Conclusion:

Therefore the American people have a right, indeed a duty, to abolish their present form of government and to create new guards for their future security.

As the major premise in this argument, the preamble allowed Jefferson and the Congress to reason from self-evident principles of government accepted by almost all eighteenth-century readers of the Declaration.

The key premise, however, was the minor premise. Since virtually everyone agreed the people had a right to overthrow a tyrannical ruler when all other remedies had failed, the crucial question in July 1776 was whether the necessary conditions for revolution existed in the colonies. Congress answered this question with a sustained attack on George III, an attack that makes up almost exactly two-thirds of the text.

The indictment of George III begins with a transitional sentence immediately following the preamble:

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

Now, 273 words into the Declaration, appears the first explicit reference to the British-American conflict. The parallel structure of the sentence reinforces the parallel movement of ideas from the preamble to the indictment of the king, while the next sentence states that indictment with the force of a legal accusation:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these states.

Unlike the preamble, however, which most eighteenth-century readers could readily accept as self-evident, the indictment of the king required proof. In keeping with the rhetorical conventions Englishmen had followed for centuries when dethroning a "tyrannical" monarch, the Declaration contains a bill of particulars documenting the king's "repeated injuries and usurpations" of the Americans' rights and liberties. The bill of particulars lists twenty-eight specific grievances and is introduced with the shortest sentence of the Declaration:

To prove this [the king's tyranny], let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

This sentence is so innocuous one can easily overlook its artistry and importance. The opening phrase--"To prove this"--indicates the "facts" to follow will indeed prove that George III is a tyrant. But prove to whom? To a "candid world"--that is, to readers who are free from bias or malice, who are fair, impartial, and just. The implication is that any such reader will see the "facts" as demonstrating beyond doubt that the king has sought to establish an absolute tyranny in America. If a reader is not convinced, it is not because the "facts" are untrue or are insufficient to prove the king's villainy; it is because the reader is not "candid."

The pivotal word in the sentence, though, is "facts." As a term in eighteenth-century jurisprudence (Jefferson, like many of his colleagues in Congress, was a lawyer), it meant the circumstances and incidents of a legal case, looked at apart from their legal meaning. This usage fits with the Declaration's similarity to a legal declaration, the plaintiff's written statement of charges showing a "plain and certain" indictment against a defendant. If the Declaration were considered as analogous to a legal declaration or a bill of impeachment, the issue of dispute would not be the status of the law (the right of revolution as expressed in the preamble) but the facts of the specific case at hand (the king's actions to erect a "tyranny" in America).

In ordinary usage "fact" had by 1776 taken on its current meaning of something that had actually occurred, a truth known by observation, reality rather than supposition or speculation.18 By characterizing the colonists' grievances against George III as "facts," the Declaration implies that they are unmediated representations of empirical reality rather than interpretations of reality.

They are the objective constraints that make the Revolution "necessary." This is reinforced by the passive voice in "let Facts be submitted to a candid world." Who is submitting the facts? No one. They have not been gathered, structured, rendered, or in any way contaminated by human agents--least of all by the Continental Congress. They are just being "submitted," direct from experience without the corrupting intervention of any observer or interpreter.

But "fact" had yet another connotation in the eighteenth century. The word derived from the Latin facere, to do. Its earliest meaning in English was "a thing done or performed"--an action or deed. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was used most frequently to denote an evil deed or a crime, a usage still in evidence at the time of the Revolution. In 1769, for example, Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, noted that "accessories after the fact" were "allowed the benefit of clergy in all cases." The Annual Register for 1772 wrote of a thief who was committed to prison for the "fact" of horse stealing.

There is no way to know whether Jefferson and the Congress had this sense of "fact" in mind when they adopted the Declaration. Yet regardless of their intentions, for some eighteenth-century readers "facts" many have had a powerful double-edged meaning when applied to George III's actions toward America.

Although one English critic assailed the Declaration for its "studied confusion in the arrangement" of the grievances against George III, they are not listed in random order but fall into four distinct groups.(20) The first group, consisting of charges 1-12, refers to such abuses of the king's executive power as suspending colonial laws, dissolving colonial legislatures, obstructing the administration of justice, and maintaining a standing army during peacetime. The second group, consisting of charges 13-22, attacks the king for combining with "others" (Parliament) to subject America to a variety of unconstitutional measures, including taxing the colonists without consent, cutting off their trade with the rest of the world, curtailing their right to trial by jury, and altering their charters.

The third set of charges, numbers 23-27, assails the king's violence and cruelty in waging war against his American subjects. They burden him with a litany of venal deeds that is worth quoting in full:

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the Lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

The war grievances are followed by the final charge against the king--that the colonists' "repeated Petitions" for redress of their grievances have produced only "repeated injury."

The presentation of what Samuel Adams called George III's "Catalogue of Crimes" is among the Declaration's most skillful features. First, the grievances could have been arranged chronologically, as Congress had done in all but one of its former state papers. Instead they are arranged topically and are listed seriatim, in sixteen successive sentences beginning "He has" or, in the case of one grievance, "He is." Throughout this section of the Declaration, form and content reinforce one another to magnify the perfidy of the king. The steady, laborious piling up of "facts" without comment takes on the character of a legal indictment, while the repetition of "He has" slows the movement of the text, draws attention to the accumulation of grievances, and accentuates George III's role as the prime conspirator against American liberty.

Second, as Thomas Hutchinson complained, the charges were "most wickedly presented to cast reproach upon the King." Consider, for example, grievance 10: "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." The language is Biblical and conjures up Old Testament images of "swarms" of flies and locusts covering the face of the earth, "so that the land was darkened," and devouring all they found until "there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field" (Exodus 10:14-15). It also recalls the denunciation, in Psalms 53:4, of "the workers of iniquity . . . who eat up my people as they eat bread," and the prophecy of Deuteronomy 28:51 that an enemy nation "shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, and the fruit of thy land until thou be destroyed: which also shall not leave thee either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of thy kine, or flocks of thy sheep, until he have destroyed thee."

For some readers the religious connotations may have been enhanced by "substance," which was used in theological discourse to signify "the Essence or Substance of the Godhead" and to describe the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ had "coupled the substance of his flesh and the substance of bread together, so we should receive both."

From the revolutionaries' view, however, the primary advantage of the wording of charge 10 was probably its purposeful ambiguity. The "multitude of New Offices" referred to the customs posts that had been created in the 1760s to control colonial smuggling. The "swarms of Officers" that were purportedly eating out the substance of the colonies' three million people numbered about fifty in the entire continent.

But Congress could hardly assail George III as a tyrant for appointing a few dozen men to enforce the laws against smuggling, so it clothed the charge in vague, evocative imagery that gave significance and emotional resonance to what otherwise might have seemed a rather paltry grievance.

Third, although scholars often downplay the war grievances as "the weakest part of the Declaration," they were vital to its rhetorical strategy. They came last partly because they were the most recent of George III's "abuses and usurpations," but also because they constituted the ultimate proof of his plan to reduce the colonies under "absolute despotism." Whereas the first twenty-two grievances describe the king's acts with such temperate verbs as "refused," "called together," "dissolved," "endeavored," "made," "erected," "kept," and "affected," the war grievances use emotionally charged verbs such as "plundered," "ravaged," "burnt," and "destroyed." With the exception of grievance 10, there is nothing in the earlier charges to compare with the evocative accusation that George III was spreading "death, desolation and tyranny . . . with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages," or with the characterization of "the merciless Indian Savages, whose known mode of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

Coming on the heels of the previous twenty-two charges, the war grievances make George III out as little better than the notorious Richard III, who had forfeited his crown in 1485 for "unnatural, mischievous, and great Perjuries, Treasons, Homicides and Murders, in shedding of Infants' blood, with many other Wrongs, odious Offences, and abominations against God and Man."

To some extent, of course, the emotional intensity of the war grievances was a natural outgrowth of their subject. It is hard to write about warfare without using strong language. Moreover, as Jefferson explained a decade later in his famous "Head and Heart" letter to Maria Cosway, for many of the revolutionaries independence was, at bottom, an emotional--or sentimental--issue.

But the emotional pitch of the war grievances was also part of a rhetorical strategy designed to solidify support for independence in those parts of America that had yet to suffer the physical and economic hardships of war.

As late as May 1776 John Adams lamented that while independence had strong support in New England and the South, it was less secure in the middle colonies, which "have never tasted the bitter Cup; they have never Smarted--and are therefore a little cooler." As Thomas Paine recognized, "the evil" of British domination was not yet "sufficiently brought to their doors to make them feel the precariousness with which all American property is possessed."

Paine sought to bring the evil home to readers of Common Sense by inducing them to identify with the "horror" inflicted on other Americans by the British forces "that hath carried fire and sword" into the land. In similar fashion, the Declaration of Independence used images of terror to magnify the wickedness of George III, to arouse "the passions and feelings" of readers, and to awaken "from fatal and unmanly slumbers" those Americans who had yet to be directly touched by the ravages of war.

Fourth, all of the charges against George III contain a substantial amount of strategic ambiguity. While they have a certain specificity in that they refer to actual historical events, they do not identify names, dates, or places. This magnified the seriousness of the grievances by making it seem as if each charge referred not to a particular piece of legislation or to an isolated act in a single colony, but to a violation of the constitution that had been repeated on many occasions throughout America.

The ambiguity of the grievances also made them more difficult to refute. In order to build a convincing case against the grievances, defenders of the king had to clarify each charge and what specific act or events it referred to, and then explain why the charge was not true. Thus it took John Lind, who composed the most sustained British response to the Declaration, 110 pages to answer the charges set forth by the Continental Congress in fewer than two dozen sentences.

Although Lind deftly exposed many of the charges to be flimsy at best, his detailed and complex rebuttal did not stand a chance against the Declaration as a propaganda document. Nor has Lind's work fared much better since 1776.

While the Declaration continues to command an international audience and has created an indelible popular image of George III as a tyrant, Lind's tract remains a piece of arcana, buried in the dust heap of history.

In addition to petitioning Parliament and George III, Whig leaders had also worked hard to cultivate friends of the American cause in England. But the British people had proved no more receptive to the Whigs than had the government, and so the Declaration follows the attack on George III by noting that the colonies had also appealed in vain to the people of Great Britain:

Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

This is one of the most artfully written sections of the Declaration.


The first sentence, beginning "Nor . . . ," shifts attention quickly and cleanly away from George III to the colonists' "British brethren." The "have we" of the first sentence is neatly reversed in the "We have" at the start of the second. Sentences two through four, containing four successive clauses beginning "We Have . . . ," give a pronounced sense of momentum to the paragraph while underlining the colonists' active efforts to reach the British people. The repetition of "We have" here also parallels the repetition of "He has" in the grievances against George III.

The fifth sentence--"They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity"--contains one of the few metaphors in the Declaration and acquires added force by its simplicity and brevity, which contrast with the greater length and complexity of the preceding sentence. The final sentence unifies the paragraph by returning to the pattern of beginning with "We," and its intricate periodic structure plays off the simple structure of the fifth sentence so as to strengthen the cadence of the entire paragraph. The closing words--"Enemies in War, in Peace Friends"--employ chiasmus, a favorite rhetorical device of eighteenth-century writers. How effective the device is in this case can be gauged by rearranging the final words to read, "Enemies in War, Friends in Peace," which weakens both the force and harmony of the Declaration's phrasing.

It is worth noting, as well, that this is the only part of the Declaration to employ much alliteration: "British brethren," "time to time," "common kindred," "which would," "connections and correspondence." The euphony gained by these phrases is fortified by the heavy repetition of medial and terminal consonants in adjoining words: "been wanting in attentions to," "them from time to time," "to their native justice," "disavow these usurpations," "have been deaf to the voice of." Finally, this paragraph, like the rest of the Declaration, contains a high proportion of one- and two-syllable words (82 percent).

Of those words, an overwhelming number (eighty-one of ninety-six) contain only one syllable. The rest of the paragraph contains nine three- syllable words, eight four-syllable words, and four five-syllable words. This felicitous blend of a large number of very short words with a few very long ones is reminiscent of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and contributes greatly to the harmony, cadence, and eloquence of the Declaration, much as it contributes to the same features in Lincoln's immortal speech.

The British brethren section essentially finished the case for independence. Congress had set forth the conditions that justified revolution and had shown, as best it could, that those conditions existed in Great Britain's thirteen North American colonies. All that remained was for Congress to conclude the Declaration:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This final section of the Declaration is highly formulaic and has attracted attention primarily because of its closing sentence. Carl Becker deemed this sentence "perfection itself":

It is true (assuming that men value life more than property, which is doubtful) that the statement violates the rhetorical rule of climax; but it was a sure sense that made Jefferson place "lives" first and "fortunes" second. How much weaker if he had written "our fortunes, our lives, and our sacred honor"! Or suppose him to have used the word "property" instead of "fortunes"! Or suppose him to have omitted "sacred"! Consider the effect of omitting any of the words, such as the last two "ours"--"our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor." No, the sentence can hardly be improved.

Becker is correct in his judgment about the wording and rhythm of the sentence, but he errs in attributing high marks to Jefferson for his "sure sense" in placing "lives" before "fortunes." "Lives and fortunes" was one of the most hackneyed phrases of eighteenth-century Anglo-American political discourse. Colonial writers had used it with numbing regularity throughout the dispute with England (along with other stock phrases such as "liberties and estates" and "life, liberty, and property").

Its appearance in the Declaration can hardly be taken as a measure of Jefferson's felicity of expression.

What marks Jefferson's "happy talent for composition" in this case is the coupling of "our sacred Honor" with "our Lives" and "our Fortunes" to create the eloquent trilogy that closes the Declaration. The concept of honor (and its cognates fame and glory) exerted a powerful hold on the eighteenth-century mind. Writers of all kinds--philosophers, preachers, politicians, playwrights, poets--repeatedly speculated about the sources of honor and how to achieve it.

Virtually every educated man in England or America was schooled in the classical maxim, "What is left when honor is lost?"

Or as Joseph Addison wrote in his Cato, whose sentiments were widely admired throughout the eighteenth century on both sides of the Atlantic: "Better to die ten thousand deaths/Than wound my honour." The cult of honor was so strong that in English judicial proceedings a peer of the realm did not answer to bills in chancery or give a verdict "upon oath, like an ordinary juryman, but upon his honor."

By pledging "our sacred Honor" in support of the Declaration, Congress made a particularly solemn vow. The pledge also carried a latent message that the revolutionaries, contrary to the claims of their detractors, were men of honor whose motives and actions could not only withstand the closest scrutiny by contemporary persons of quality and merit but would also deserve the approbation of posterity. If the Revolution succeeded, its leaders stood to achieve lasting honor as what Francis Bacon called "Liberatores or Salvatores"-- men who "compound the long Miseries of Civil Wars, or deliver their Countries from Servitude of Strangers or Tyrants."

Historical examples included Augustus Caesar, Henry VII of England, and Henry IV of France. On Bacon's five-point scale of supreme honor, such heroes ranked below only "Conditores Imperiorum, Founders of States and Commonwealths," such as Romulus, Caesar, and Ottoman, and "Lawgivers" such as Solon, Lycurgus, and Justinian, "also called Second Founders, or Perpetui Principes, because they Govern by their Ordinances after they are gone."

Seen in this way, "our sacred Honor" lifts the motives of Congress above the more immediate concerns of "our Lives" and "our Fortunes" and places the revolutionaries in the footsteps of history's most honorable figures. As a result it also unifies the whole text by subtly playing out the notion that the Revolution is a major turn in the broad "course of human events."

At the same time, the final sentence completes a crucial metamorphosis in the text. Although the Declaration begins in an impersonal, even philosophical voice, it gradually becomes a kind of drama, with its tensions expressed more and more in personal terms. This transformation begins with the appearance of the villain, "the present King of Great Britain," who dominates the stage through the first nine grievances, all of which note what "He has" done without identifying the victim of his evil deeds.

Beginning with grievance 10 the king is joined on stage by the American colonists, who are identified as the victim by some form of first person plural reference: The king has sent "swarms of officers to harass our people," has quartered "armed troops among us," has imposed "taxes on us without our consent," "has taken away our charters, abolished our most valuable laws," and altered "the Forms of our Governments." He has "plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, . . . destroyed the lives of our people," and "excited domestic insurrections amongst us."

The word "our" is used twenty-six times from its first appearance in grievance 10 through the last sentence of the Declaration, while "us" occurs eleven times from its first appearance in grievance 11 through the rest of the grievances

Throughout the grievances action is instigated by the king, as the colonists passively accept blow after blow without wavering in their loyalty. His villainy complete, George III leaves the stage and it is occupied next by the colonists and their "British brethren." The heavy use of personal pronouns continues, but by now the colonists have become the instigators of action as they actively seek redress of their grievances.

This is marked by a shift in idiom from "He has" to "We have": "We have petitioned for redress . . . ," "We have reminded them . . . ," "We have appealed to their . . . ," and "We have conjured them." But "they have been deaf" to all pleas, so "We must . . . hold them" as enemies. By the conclusion, only the colonists remain on stage to pronounce their dramatic closing lines: "We . . . solemnly publish and declare . . ." And to support this declaration, "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

The persistent use of "he" and "them," "us" and "our," "we" and "they" personalizes the British-American conflict and transfigures it from a complex struggle of multifarious origins and diverse motives to a simple moral drama in which a patiently suffering people courageously defend their liberty against a cruel and vicious tyrant. It also reduces the psychic distance between the reader and the text and coaxes the reader into seeing the dispute with Great Britain through the eyes of the revolutionaries.

As the drama of the Declaration unfolds, the reader is increasingly solicited to identify with Congress and "the good People of these Colonies," to share their sense of victimage, to participate vicariously in their struggle, and ultimately to act with them in their heroic quest for freedom.

In this respect, as in others, the Declaration is a work of consummate artistry. From its eloquent introduction to its aphoristic maxims of government, to its relentless accumulation of charges against George III, to its elegiac denunciation of the British people, to its heroic closing sentence, it sustains an almost perfect synthesis of style, form, and content.

Its solemn and dignified tone, its graceful and unhurried cadence, its symmetry, energy, and confidence, its combination of logical structure and dramatic appeal, its adroit use of nuance and implication all contribute to its rhetorical power.

And all help to explain why the Declaration remains one of the handful of American political documents that, in addition to meeting the immediate needs of the moment, continues to enjoy a lustrous literary reputation.

When every other recourse for the redress of America’s contemporary grievances is exhausted in failure; the power, the right, the duty of every citizen to right the nation, by whatever means is still enshrined in that frail parchment that justifies steel in the streets.

The Black Quill....

No comments: