REVISIONIST HISTORY …
“Ideas” reporter Jennifer Schuessler of The New York Times posted a curious story over the holiday weekend regarding the alleged omission of an important punctuation mark from the Declaration of Independence.
Relying on the work of “classicist scholar” Danielle Allen of Princeton, Schuessler probes whether a missing period has led to a “serious misunderstanding” of the true meaning of America’s foundational document – a misunderstanding that biases our nation against government.
According to Allen’s research, Thomas Jefferson – the author of the Declaration – is mistakenly assumed to have inserted a period after his text listed the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This alleged punctuational error, according to Allen, has led to a short shrifting of the importance of the next line – “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
That’s right, people … Big Government wants its due.
“The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights,” Allen told Schuessler.
Schuessler’s story also quoted an academic from Stanford as saying Allen’s research has raised legitimate questions about whether the Declaration’s “parts about the importance of government (are) part of one cumulative argument.”
Oh, and U.S. taxpayers could soon be on the hook for “hyperspectral imaging” in an effort to determine whether Jefferson actually put a period at the end of the sentence or not.
What’s the point of all this?
“We are having a national conversation about the value of government, and it does get connected to our founding documents,” Allen told Schuessler. “We should get right what’s in them.”
In other words, the “professional left” is pissed off that so many Americans have awakened to their government’s hopeless waste and corruption – and is hoping to steer the herd back to a pro-government interpretation of this text.
Does these revisionist efforts mesh with Jefferson’s views on the matter? No.
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(Pic via Monticello.org)
“It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all,” he wrote in a 1795 letter.
In fact, according to the Declaration’s author a limited government was essential to the securing of the “unalienable rights” enumerated therein.
“If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy,” he wrote in a letter in 1803.
In a letter sent in 1816 Jefferson expanded on this idea – saying the only “true office” of America’s leaders was “to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties and to take none of them from us.”
If the purpose of Allen’s research (and Schuessler’s story) is to affirm that the institution of government is necessary to secure our “unalienable rights” – she will get no argument from us.
That’s why the document was written. And that’s why we have the necessary evil of government in our lives.
Of course there are tens of millions who could argue as to whether that government is protecting life … if they could.
Protecting liberty? Same.
And the pursuit of Happiness? Yeah … good luck with that in our increasingly government-run economy.
We’ve always maintained that government exists to perform certain core functions – and that those core functions (most notably “cops and courts”) are intended to safeguard our rights, not impose upon them.
Clearly that is not the country in which we currently live – which brings us to the sentence that follows the disputed text.
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”