American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence
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American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  298 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Pauline Maier shows us the Declaration as both the defining statement of our national identity and the moral standard by which we live as a nation. It is truly "American Scripture," and Maier tells us how it came to be -- from the Declaration's birth in the hard and tortuous struggle by which Americans arrived at Independence to the ways in which, in the nineteenth century...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 26th 1998 by Vintage (first published May 26th 1997)
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John
A bit of thematic reading for July. Maier tells two stories, both well. The first of these debunks the myth that the Declaration of Independence was largely the product of Thomas Jefferson's singular genius -- a myth Jefferson had a habit of encouraging later in life. Against this she lays out the history of the many "Declarations of Independence" put forth by various colonial governments in the months between the beginning of the Revolution at Lexington and Concord and the Second Continental Co...more
Erik Graff
Apr 30, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: strict constructionalists
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
This book, a history of the decision to break with the British Empire and of the document which officially declared it so, focuses mostly on events of the late eighteenth century. Its point, however, is discovered only towards its conclusion, beginning with the discussion of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and ending with a strong condemnation of what, in constitutional law, is called 'strict constructionalism.'

This book is well argued and well sourced. While the writing style of the author is gener...more
Jamie
Of all the things to criticize Thomas Jefferson for, pride of authorship seems to be the most heinous attrocity for Maier. Difficult to understand why she hates TJ and the Declaration of Independence so much. Her introduction includes a story about her smug satisfaction of knowing more about Revolutionary history than a 10-year-old in front of her in line at the National Archives, and this bitterness overwhelms the whole book. It ends with her complaining that Abraham Lincoln shouldn't have used...more
Heather
A really in depth look at the multiple contributors to the Declaration of Independence. The book traces the roots of many concepts to British documents, and shows how the concepts within the document influence other nations of that time. Also, the document becomes highly contested as already existing rifts in the US are exacerbated in the lead-up to the Civil War.
Michael
It's a good book for those who want to go in-depth on the thought, work, debate, drafting, and subsequent history and influence of the Declaration of Independence, but not be appealing for those looking for recreational reading. At times, it reads too much like an academic journal article, particularly on the section dealing with its drafting.

However, Maier does do a good job at giving more credit to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin for their influence on the Declaration's development. The orig...more
John Maniscalco
Pauline Maier elegantly details the history of the Declaration of Independence in what seems to be an attempt to knock it off its pedestal.

This book has two main parts to it. The first part, and the vast majority of the book, is concerned with the need for a declaration of independence, its construction, and the purpose it served. Maier provides a wealth of good information that clears up some common misconceptions that serve to give the Declaration and almost holy status. To sum up, according t...more
Steven
Maier's American Scripture guides us through those early days of anxiety which, after MUCH debate and struggle, fostered our Declaration of Independence. More than a casual retelling of a familiar story, Maier sets out to disillusion those who think all thirteen colonies supported independence from Britain. Far from it! In fact, holdouts on that point--Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York, for example--remained recalcitrant almost to 4th. Though miserable under the coercive laws passed down by G...more
Jim Kisela
The first time I read this book I was stunned by the impact it had on my perception of our colonial history, especially the Declaration of Independence.

I was taught that Jefferson was the "author" of the Declaration of Independence and the brightest star in the colonial founding fathers galaxy. My adoration of Jefferson verged on canonization, I am embarrassed to say as I look back on it. Maier dispels the myth that Jefferson was anything more, or less, than the person who physically wrote the w...more
Tamra
This is a hard book to rate. It's a wealth of information about the Declaration of Independence, which is a double-edged sword; she seemingly cuts out no details, which left me completely overwhelmed. If I were smarter, I'm sure I would be able to absorb the information better. As it is, though, I needed about 1/2 of the information cut out.

I made it through 153 pages (by reading 20 pages, skipping 10) before deciding I was done.

Good things about this book:
- The information is first-rate. She c...more
Bryn Dunham
I have mixed feelings about this book.

First the Pros: it is a detailed analysis of the DOI in virtually all regards; its drafting, editing, and linguistic peculiarities. The author explains the historical origins of key passages, their originality or novelty and the context it was composed and finally approved. The focus of the book is the actual document and language not the Revolutionary War. I learned quite a bit more than I expected.

Cons: Long chapters without the common and convenient "sto...more
Hom Sack
I was intrigued after reading about Pauline Maier's death in the New York Times earlier this month: Pauline Maier, Historian Who Described Jefferson as ‘Overrated,’ Dies at 75 - NYTimes.com

Great title! Apropos. Probably more than you want to know about the Declaration of Independence. Knowing a little American history helps because some chapters are long in detail. The chapter named after the title is the best, nice comparison between Adams and Jefferson. My favorite quote (page 141) is from t...more
Ron Tenney
I am very interested in the founding of our nation. The role of the Declaration of Independence and the contribution of Thomas Jefferson are of particular interest to me. I like this book very much because it details the emergence of the Declaration form earlier documents and constitutions of the 13 colonies.
Jefferson borrowed from his earlier writings as well as those of George Mason. Contributions of Franklin and Adams are frequently overlooked. And the masterful editing of the Congress was i...more
Sean Chick
I am being unfair, for this is not a bad book. Trouble is Maier is dry, her asides are pointless, and her work lacks that driving fire as either a narrative or as a probing of the ideas behind the declaration. She does a good job of describing how our views on the declaration changed, but she rarely digs under the surface. This is the problem I also had with her other work and I hoped she would have progressed. However, when you come from the Ivy League and are lavished with praise, evolution is...more
Don
Dec 27, 2012 Don rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
Excellent book, although not quite as groundbreaking as I had anticipated. Meier does a nice job of humanizing the Founders, particularly Jefferson, and she points out that the Declaration has served different purposes at different times -- far beyond or even regardless of what the Second Continental Congress was actually trying to accomplish with this specific collection of words and phrases. That merely shows that the ideas and the words that were chosen (even though they weren't the original...more
Eric
This is a unique account of the Declaration of Independence. It concentrates more on the nuts and bolts history of its creation, rather than the ideas and political themes it either contains or has generated. The author explains the many precedents that pre-dated the Declaration, explores the various declarations produced by the colonies, and goes into Jefferson's authorship and then editing experience. Finally, she covers how succeeding generations have thought about the Declaration, and how it...more
Erin
A really great look at the lead up to and actual creation of the Declaration of Independence, as well as Americans' treatment of the Declaration in the century after the Revolution. Wonderfully written for a lay audience, though the section on the actual writing of the Declaration gets a bit tedious. Only gave it four stars because I was hoping it would be more about Americans' memory of the Declaration than the Declaration itself. Still, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learn...more
Mark Horn
I agree with many of the other comments thus far. Maier gives ample (some times too much) information and back story. However, her delivery is an example of why many people hate history class. You can tell that the information is more important than the actual story of the Declaration of Independence for Maier. However, that is the beauty of artistry, each person has their own preference and style. If I ever come across a question on the Declaration of Independence in a game of trivia, this book...more
Marilyn
Someone gave this to me to read because the print was too small for her! I labored through this. Having just seen the play 1776,some of the characters were familiar to me. I think if one know about the writing of the Declaration of Independence, this book would only shed a little new light. If one doesn't know about it, it is too detailed to get through. I am somewhere in the middle and I am glad that I read it, so maybe I am not as ignorant as I once was on the topic, but it isn't an easy read....more
Colleen
interesting to see the different declarations from the colonies and the works that influenced Jefferson in writing the declaration.
judy
The four stars count only if you're not frightened by academic approaches and are deeply interested in the Declaration. She has impeccably researched her subject and brought a new view that scholars will appreciate. I was on a hunt for something specific so I raced through the book. Didn't find it but am glad to know this book is out there if I need it.
Lauren Albert
I found the book a bit dull. I should have expected it to be as narrow as it is. But I had to skim at times because I'm afraid I just wasn't interested in reading about the edits of the Declaration or the Declarations made by individual states, etc. Probably just another misfit between book and reader. But I should have predicted it.
Bob
Detailed background on ideas in previous documents that came into fruition in The Declaration. Interesting to see Jefferson's original draft, with the marked changes made by the Continental Congress, especially the deleted section about the King preventing the colonies from trying to legislate against the slave trade.
Bruce
Jefferson and the Continental Congress borrowed from several other declarations (state and local) The declaration was definitely a group project (Congress in whole assembled and a lot of others) and the quotations on the Jefferson memorial are not necessarily Jefferson's.
Kate
Maier gives the reader pause to think about what the Declaration of Independence as a document really did and what it has become. A very interesting and slightly provocative thesis, and a wonderful historical account of the early days of the American Revolution.
Josh
I read this when I was taking a class on early U.S. history in college and even though I remember my professor praising the book, I can't recall how it struck me. Having said that, I think I'm going to have to give it another go here at some point.
Rebecca
Sep 05, 2007 Rebecca rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, literary buffs
Even if you are completely ignorant of or uninterested in American history, this book is accessible and fascinating. This is the book that first introduced me to the idea of speech acts.
RUSA CODES
This was one of the 1998 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rus...
Paul
Goed betoog, soms wat rommelig en onnodig uitgebreid.
Leuke epiloog.
Craig J.
American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier (1998)
Eunice
it was difficult trying to stay awake while reading this book.
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