Here’s to the Birthday of the USA. On Thursday July 4, 1776, the final draft of the document declaring the colonies’ independence from Great Britain was approved by the Continental Congress. Technically one could look at these founding fathers as a motley group of rebels, but they had a vision and it was beautifully laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson was only 33 years old when he wrote these words. (I am amused that I write “only 33” when I once thought 33 was “old”).
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.–
However yesterday’s New York Times turned the whole story upside down. There is a great debate about the period that appears after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Some cognoscenti say that that period may be a HUGE mistake and to understand the real meaning of this phrase, it must be read in immediate conjunction with its follow-up sentence:
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, —
Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. and a scholar of the Declaration of Independence, maintains that that dot of ink may not have been present on the original Declaration and if it was not, there is a shape shift in the message:
The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights,” Ms. Allen said. “You lose that connection when the period gets added.
How fascinating. With the period the individual is celebrated, without, these inalienable rights fall under government jurisdiction. Personally, I prefer the period.
So whether you’re a with-y or with-outy, enjoy this weekend where we celebrate the day we declared independence from the motherland. We are 238 years old. Let’s raise our first toast in honor of the groundbreakers of 1776 who struggled to write a paper setting forth their ideals and the second toast to us because it is true that while mistakes have been made, (and depending on one’s political stances, are being made today), the framework initiated by the drafting of the Declaration of Independence has steered us right these many years.