I don’t really care all that much for Thomas Jefferson, so I find it interesting how revered and anointed he is. I actually love buying in to the whole American mythology surrounding the founding fathers, the Declaration, etc. That whole larger-than-life thing is just fun to me. Which means a whole book discussing how the Declaration of Independence was written and then (essentially) made sacred was right up my alley. Enter American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier.
Know before you read
I found the book to be slow. It’s not terrible…. just slow. Because it’s about the making of a political document, there’s no real person or thing to latch on to and feel a connection to. There’s no real narrative to hang on to. It’s just a history of a document.
Which, you know, is fine. Just slow.
The Declaration of Independence
As I mentioned above: American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier is well-researched and well-written. It’s just slow.
The first half of the book is (roughly) about the drafting of the document – the steps leading up to it, who was in charge of getting it written, what precedent the text drew from, who edited it and how. And then how the Declaration of Independence became known to the States in general.
The second half of the book is (roughly) about the life of the document since 1776 – how it was regarded immediately after being published, how it was handled or ignored depending on the political party, how the authorship was revealed and then finally how it has become a sacred document to Americans. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” is a phrase invoked in all manner of mediums.
American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier is probably a good book to read if you are particularly interested in the legal history of the United States. I personally care more about the people and the decisions each made and how that influenced history – so this book wasn’t my favorite. Not terrible. Just not for me.