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American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  906 Ratings  ·  59 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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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
The late Pauline Maier, Professor of American History at M.I.T., in 1997 wrote a splendid and fascinating history of a frequently misunderstood event occurring during the period of the American Revolutionary War. First she traces the forces and opinions that evolved during the Revolutionary War’s opening year and describes the changing sentiments in favor of independence, including a review of the many statements, declarations, and proclamations on this topic from each of the thirteen colonies a ...more
Maren Johnson
Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Bored me to death
Brian Willis
Jul 08, 2017 rated it liked it
This book strips away the accretion of mythology and indeed even reverence for the Declaration to refocus our eyes on the essential nature of the document. It does so in four sections: how the colonies arrived at the decision that independence was the only avenue available to redress their grievances, the documents that predated and set a precedent for the language that was used in the Declaration, the process of its composition and revision by multiple delegates to the Congress in Philadelphia, ...more
Richard Subber
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Declaration of Independence was a re-write...

and it didn’t start the Revolution.

A quick review of what we know about the Declaration, courtesy of Prof. Pauline Maier: basically, it’s trash talk to King George III.

This book exposes the backstory of the Declaration. Yes, Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft in his stuffy room in Philadelphia, but the final document is the work of many hands. The Second Continental Congress substantially reworked Jefferson's draft. The Declaration didn't "start" th
Colleen Browne
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very good book on the Declaration of Independence- the Declaration and not all the others, the struggle to write and edit it; what the final product meant to those who wrote it and how its power has grown over the centuries. According to Maier, it is a revolutionary document and what makes it revolutionary, essentially, is that it rejected the king and it makes legitimate government, as it states, premised on the consent of the government. A great refresher on the Declaration complete with inf ...more
John E
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting study considering the newest Supreme Court Justice is a believer in interpreting the world from the point of view of the eighteenth century; ie, what the "original" meaning of things were. I assume he has a crystal ball that provides him guidance.

The book debunks the idea that the "founding fathers" were men unlike any other men in their wisdom and that they should be honored as prophets of the new order. It is a common fallacy that one group or person or generation is the "greatest
Jan 04, 2012 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
Mar 27, 2012 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
Sharon Miller
Sep 15, 2012 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!
Feb 22, 2009 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.
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating account of how the Declaration of Independence came to be, as well as of the history of its reception thereafter. The book is fairly short, so can in no way be considered a comprehensive treatment. But it's a very fine basis for one. Reading this book both deepened my appreciation for this seminal document and humanized it for me. The Declaration had one founder's very strong stamp, but as Maier forcefully demonstrates, it was the product of many hands, and it drew on many earlier pr ...more
Brian Miracle
Dec 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
Although somewhat less readable than Maier's book on the Ratification of the Constitution, this book is an interesting study of the writing and editing of the Declaration and how its significance has changed over time, from what started as an explanation for the reasons for declaring Independence, to its use from the 19th Century on as a document that outlines inalienable rights. The book shows how Jefferson, the drafting committee, and Congress drew on sentiments being expressed throughout the ...more
Brian Bigelow
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quite informative as to the creation of the Declaration.
Sep 08, 2017 rated it liked it
It was an ok book, I might have liked it more if I hadn't had to read it for a book review for my Intro to Historic Analysis class.
Heather G

I'm teaching a history class and sadly don't know as much about this time period as I should so I'm reading several history books and this is the driest one yet.
Jim Kisela
Jul 10, 2013 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
John Maniscalco
Aug 04, 2011 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
Ryan Morton
Jul 04, 2015 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
Jun 01, 2012 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
Mark Geise
Jul 05, 2015 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
Aug 18, 2015 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
Feb 15, 2010 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
Feb 13, 2014 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
Ron Tenney
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Update: 7/10/2016
Over July 4th while considering the Creation of our country, I was drawn again to this little book on the Declaration of Independence. I just finished re-reading Maier's wonderful exploration into the text that has indeed become American "scripture". I do recommend that those interested in the founding generation and the evolving meaning of the Declaration over time take a few hours and read this book. rt
I am very interested in the founding of our nation. The role of the Dec
Jun 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bryn Dunham
Dec 17, 2011 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 14, 2013 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
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 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
Aug 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, history
This book was educational but dull and, at times, unclear. I've let it sit for a few days since reading and I am already starting to forget parts of it, which generally only happens when there isn't much concrete for me to chew on. Some parts were fascinating--learning about the lineage of the Declaration, something I only was vaguely aware of--but there was quite a bit of redundancy and ambiguity when it came to some of her main points. She would start off an argument about how John Adams proba ...more
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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
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