Punctuated with Confusion: The Declaration of Independence

Writing for the Pittsburg Tribune-Review, School of Social Science UPS Foundation Professor Danielle Allen considers the significance that punctuation has played in the various interpretations of the Declaration of Independence.  

In this brief column, Allen explains how seemingly minor differences in the punctuation of the Declaration of Independence, which date back to its earliest printings, may have led some readers “to disconnect the original premise about individual rights from the argument for the positive value of good government and the all-important conclusion about altering governments that fail us.” More importantly, she argues, the fact that grammatical inconsistencies between various versions of the Declaration have mostly gone unacknowledged has meant that American political theorists and historians have, to some extent, missed out on the “diverse textual tradition for the Declaration of Independence” that has existed since 1776. This debate, Allen explains, is something that we must all grapple with in trying to understand the role that equality plays in the Declaration.

For the full text of the article, see here.

Allen’s research was recently the focus of a conference on the Declaration at the National Archives. Her most recent book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality is available for purchase from the W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. website.