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Home > Document Library > Slavery > American Scripture


American Scripture

Pauline Maier
1998

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The Declaration of Independence was, in fact, a peculiar document to be cited by those who championed the cause of equality. Not only did its reference to menís equal creation concern people in a state of nature before government was established, but the documentís original function was to end the previous regime, not to lay down principles to guide and limit its successor…. (192)

In many ways, [Stephen] Douglasís history was more faithful to the past and to the views of Thomas Jefferson, who to the end of his life saw the Declaration of Independence as a revolutionary manifesto…. Lincolnís view of the past, like Jeffersonís, in the 1770s, was a product of political controversy, not research, and his version of what the founders meant was full of wishful suppositions…. (206)

In Lincolnís hands, the Declaration of Independence became first and foremost a living document for an established society, a set of goals to be realized over time…. (207)

Lincoln and those who shared his convictions …felt the need for a document that stated those values in a way that could guide the nation, a document that the founding fathers had failed to supply. And so they made one, pouring old wine into an old vessel manufactured for another purpose, creating a testament whose continuing usefulness depended not on the faithfulness with which it described the intentions of the signers but on its capacity to convince and inspire living Americans. (208)

[From American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Knopf, 1998).]





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