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American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  610 Ratings  ·  43 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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(showing 1-30 of 1,273)
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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
Feb 22, 2012 Jamie rated it it was ok
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
Erik Graff
Apr 30, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  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
Ryan Morton
Jul 05, 2015 Ryan Morton rated it really liked it
After reading this book, I have a much broader understanding of the context, interplay, and details of the events surrounding the Declaration of Independence. Obviously, the separation with Great Britain and the Independence movement played major roles in the book, but I particularly like the discussions surrounding the meaning of the document (during and well after the Revolution) and the origin of many of its topics. My understanding of the conversations in Philadelphia improved significantly ...more
Sharon Miller
Jun 13, 2015 Sharon Miller rated it really liked it
Eloquently written with a deft hand and and elegant dry wit, this is close focus History at its best. A wonderful immersion in a fascinating and still very relevant subject. I especially liked the end, in which due weight is given to interpretation over the years, by different generations for an evolving epic of meaning. The characters come to life, the words speak aloud.Wonderful stuff! well worth the reading!
Mar 07, 2009 Heather rated it it was amazing
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.
Mark Geise
Jul 21, 2015 Mark Geise rated it really liked it
I love learning more about the revolutionary period in American history, and this book definitely taught me several new things. Maier's basic thesis is that Thomas Jefferson is given far too much credit for penning the Declaration of Independence. He drew from documents that had been written by representatives from other colonies and localities to draft the Declaration of Independence, and phrases are taken almost verbatim from other documents that he and others had written. Maier explains the c ...more
Feb 08, 2016 Dru rated it liked it
The good: This book describes the creation of the Declaration of Independence in significant context...doing a fair job of explaining how it the attitudes of the day and actions of the states led up to this document. It also takes on the topic of WHY we Americans have chosen to elevate this document to the status of near religious zealousness and built a veritable ALTAR for it to be worshiped at the Archives.

It begins with a really EXCITING tale about Sam Adams and John Hancock escaping toward P
Oct 11, 2014 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fall-2014
I read this for my U.S History class at Brigham Young University. The subtitle of my text is different from this edition, which is "Making the Declaration of Independence". I only switched to this edition due page numbering, not because of the subtitling.

I thought this book was a good insight with how the Second Continental Congress made an effort to declare Independence and made a revolution in government. I now understand the friendship that was developed between Thomas Jefferson and John Adam
Apr 16, 2014 Michael rated it liked it
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
John Maniscalco
Aug 04, 2011 John Maniscalco rated it liked it
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
Jun 01, 2012 Steven rated it really liked it
Shelves: home-inventory
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
Jul 10, 2013 Jim Kisela rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 22, 2010 Tamra rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
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
Bryn Dunham
May 08, 2014 Bryn Dunham rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-books, history
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
Hom Sack
Aug 30, 2013 Hom Sack rated it it was amazing
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 -

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
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Referenced by William Lee Miller in Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography. Sometimes dry editorial review of the writing of the Declaration.

Most interesting aspect is the discussion of the state and local declarations before and after the real Declaration of Independence, and the history of the physical Declaration, which might have been expanded.
Ron Tenney
Nov 14, 2012 Ron Tenney rated it really liked it
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
Sean Chick
Dec 20, 2014 Sean Chick rated it it was ok
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
Fredrick Danysh
Sep 14, 2015 Fredrick Danysh rated it liked it
Shelves: political, history
This is an academic rendition of some of the causes of the American Revolution and the difficult process of creating the Declaration of Independence. It evaluates the beliefs and values of the founding fathers.
Sep 22, 2014 Frederick rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyable book and easy to read. It certainly opened up my eyes regarding the Declaration of Independence; how it was worked on and its relation to other declarations of independence among the colonies.
Jan 17, 2015 Don rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, own
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
Dan Gorman
Oct 09, 2014 Dan Gorman rated it really liked it
Fun, fast read about the making of the Declaration of Independence and its reimagining in American society over the next 100 years.
Jun 05, 2015 Erin rated it it was ok
Contains 1 excellent chapter, 2 alright chapters, and a whole lotta bias. Good to read once, but not to reread.
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
Oct 18, 2012 Erin rated it really liked it
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
Jul 03, 2013 Mark Horn rated it liked it
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
Jun 14, 2013 Marilyn rated it liked it
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.
May 23, 2014 Colleen rated it liked it
Shelves: history
interesting to see the different declarations from the colonies and the works that influenced Jefferson in writing the declaration.
Oct 06, 2011 judy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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.
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Dr. Pauline Maier was a historian of the American Revolution, though her work also addressed the late colonial period and the history of the United States after the end of the Revolutionary War. She was the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Maier achieved prominence over a fifty-year career of critically acclaimed scholarly histo
More about Pauline Maier...

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