NYT, Page A1: Taking Away Period After Declaration's Three God-Given Rights Enhances 'Importance of Government'

Attempting to take historical revisionism to an absurd level, New York Times "Arts Beat" reporter Jennifer Schuessler claims that the removal of a long assumed to be present period at a critical point in the Declaration of Independence — smack dab after the identification of its three God-given rights — may radically change the document's meaning from its common understanding.

Naturally, the period's removal supposedly provides government with powers at least on par with those of the people. Excerpts from Schuessler's Page 1 schlock (HT Tom Maguire), aided by a left-leaning professor's failure to comprehend the English language, follows the jump:

If Only Thomas Jefferson Could Settle the Issue
A Period Is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence


... A scholar is now saying that the official transcript of the document produced by the National Archives and Records Administration contains a significant error — smack in the middle of the sentence beginning “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” no less.

The error, according to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., concerns a period that appears right after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the transcript, but almost certainly not, she maintains, on the badly faded parchment original.

That errant spot of ink, she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the document.

The period creates the impression that the list of self-evident truths ends with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she says. But as intended by Thomas Jefferson, she argues, what comes next is just as important: the essential role of governments — “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” — in securing those rights.

Oh for heaven's sake (literally). Let's look at the two alternatives, shall we?

(with the period)

“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, ...

(without the period, as Ms. Allen alleges)

“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, ...

The logic of the sentence doesn't change at all.

The three God-given rights are still Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The presence or absence of the period does nothing to increase or decrease the perceived importance of Governments in attempting to "secure these rights."

But we do need to deal with whether the period is there, because doing so completely ends the argument.

A photo of the parchment here indicates that the period is there. It's not the most obvious period ever seen, but it's there.

But what really kills Allen's argument is the presence of what is presented as a dash in the typography above. but which in truth is not a dash as used today:


The "dashes" are really long lines on the same level as the bottom of cursive characters which don't drop below the imaginary text line. They appear throughout the document. As seen above, they substantially vary in length. I am told by someone knowledgeable in these matters that the relative lengths of the dashes may correspond to the relative lengths of the pauses one would take between thoughts in reading the document out loud (i.e., the longer the line/dash, the longer the verbal pause), either for dramatic effect, to give the audience time to absorb the meaning of what was just said, or both.

So, first of all, there is a pause — not a particularly long one, but a pause nonetheless — between the three identified God-given rights and the articulation of the need for government to ensure them.

Second, and even more important, there is no instance in the document where a line/dash is not preceded by some form of punctuation. A couple of the punctuation marks are quite faint, and a couple of them appear to run together into the line/dashes themselves (given the quill writing instruments of the time, it's surprising that there aren't more such instances), but they are there. So why would the subject passage where Ms. Allen wants to say no period is there, or no period was meant to be there, be any different?

Getting back to the tripe at the Times:

Correcting the punctuation, if indeed it is wrong, is unlikely to quell the never-ending debates about the deeper meaning of the Declaration of Independence. But scholars who have reviewed Ms. Allen’s research say she has raised a serious question.

“Are the parts about the importance of government part of one cumulative argument, or — as Americans have tended to read the document — subordinate to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’?” said Jack Rakove, a historian at Stanford and a member of the National Archives’ Founding Fathers Advisory Committee. “You could make the argument without the punctuation, but clarifying it would help.”

This whole line of argument is extraordinarily weak. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the three identified God-given rights. Governments are established to ensure those rights. The idea that governments have "rights" or inherent "importance" at all isn't even addressed — and even if government is granted some form of "rights" by "the consent of the governed," they would still be subordinate to the God-given rights of the people.

This logical, correct, consistent line of argument destroys any possible justification for legalized abortion, as it takes away a God-given right that is inalienable. In other words, there is no Founding documents-based justification for it, regardless of what seven justices had to say about constitutional "penumbras" in 1973 — and there never will be.

My source also reminded me that based on his life and writings, the idea that Jefferson would be a supporter of an aggressive, usurpacious government of the kind the clearly left-leaning Allen would prefer is absurd. Among other things, Jefferson said: "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

We don't need Jefferson to still be with us here on earth to settle this issue. It was settled 238 years ago.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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