American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

by Pauline Maier

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Overview

Pauline Maier shows us the Declaration as both the defining statement of our national identity and the moral standard by which we live as a nation. It is truly "American Scripture," and Maier tells us how it came to be — from the Declaration's birth in the hard and tortuous struggle by which Americans arrived at Independence to the ways in which, in the nineteenth century, the document itself became sanctified.

Maier describes the transformation of the Second Continental Congress into a national government, unlike anything that preceded or followed it, and with more authority than the colonists would ever have conceded to the British Parliament; the great difficulty in making the decision for Independence; the influence of Paine's Common Sense, which shifted the terms of debate; and the political maneuvers that allowed Congress to make the momentous decision.

In Maier's hands, the Declaration of Independence is brought close to us. She lets us hear the voice of the people as revealed in the other "declarations" of 1776: the local resolutions — most of which have gone unnoticed over the past two centuries — that explained, advocated, and justified Independence and undergirded Congress's work. Detective-like, she discloses the origins of key ideas and phrases in the Declaration and unravels the complex story of its drafting and of the group-editing job which angered Thomas Jefferson.

Maier also reveals what happened to the Declaration after the signing and celebration: how it was largely forgotten and then revived to buttress political arguments of the nineteenth century; and, most important, how Abraham Lincoln ensured its persistence as a living force in American society. Finally, she shows how by the very act of venerating the Declaration as we do — by holding it as sacrosanct, akin to holy writ — we may actually be betraying its purpose and its power.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679779087
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/28/1998
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 309,592
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Pauline Maier was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.  She received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1960, was a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics in 1960-61, and took her Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1968.  She has taught at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts (Boston), University of Wisconsin, Yale University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she has been William R. Kenan, Junior, Professor of American History since 1990.  She is the author of From Resistance to Revolution, The Old Revolutionaries, and The American People: A History, a single-authored text for junior high school, as well as numerous other articles and reviews.

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American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
lahochstetler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a great book on the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the clear choice is Pauline Maier's American Scripture. Maier begins with a travel narrative of sorts, explaining what an early American historian sees when she visits the National Archives, and observes hundreds of tourists waiting to view the document. No other significant document in the history of the United States, she notices, seems to create as much reverence, excitement, and patriotism as the Declaration. While the viewers don't necessarily have all of the history under exact command, they have great respect for the document. How the document came to be, and how it developed such popular acclaim become the subjects of the rest of Maier's book. This book truly is a history of the writing of the Declaration. Maier examines the documents that preceded that of July 4, 1776. She finds that in the months preceding July 1776 localities drafted their own declarations, mini-declarations, declaring the cessation of their allegiance to George III and Parliament. These mini-declarations formed the linguistic and stylistic basis for the national declaration. Producing the American Declaration of Independence was a task that fell to a committee of five, which included Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and John Adams. The lion's share of the credit for drafting the Declaration is usually accorded to Jefferson, but Maier finds that the committee of five, particularly Adams, was far more influential than previously thought. Ultimately Maier's book is carefully researched and well-crafted. It is beautifully written, and a joy to read. For those who teach American history, as I do, it is an excellent resource to use in an advanced undergraduate class to discuss how to do research and how to write history. I read this book my first year of graduate school and have relied on it heavily ever since.