Thursday, July 03, 2008

For the Fourth

- Just because, here are some Wordle visualizations of the Declaration of Independence, using various word counts, fonts, color schemes, &c. Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4. Or make your own!

- In the NYTimes today, John Carter Brown Library director Ted Widmer has an essay, "Looking for Liberty," in which he asks the question "which document, precisely, is the Declaration of Independence?" Is it the manuscript engrossed copy on display at the National Archives? Or the manuscript copy presumed to have been "in the room" on 4 July when the Continental Congress voted to approve the text (but now lost)? Or is it the first printed version (the Dunlap broadside), which would have been the 'edition' of the Declaration which first made its way around the states and across the Pond?

Widmer concludes "It would be gratifying to point to a single Declaration and proclaim it the fountainhead of our rights. But to do so would be to assert a truth that is not quite as self-evident as we would like. The Declaration is surely a national treasure — but like many treasures, the quest it inspires may ultimately be more rewarding than the illusion of possession. Perhaps it is safest to say that this precious document, with all its flaws and variants, belongs to an American people not unlike itself."

- In Boston, the Declaration wasn't publicly declared until 18 July, when it was read aloud from the balcony of what is now called the Old State House. Henry Alline wrote a letter describing that public reading, and that's our MHS Object of the Month.

- In Wednesday's Washington Post, Andrew Trees had an essay titled "Three Cheers for July Second." He proposes "we make July 2 a national holiday to celebrate the Founders for some of their greatest but least appreciated attributes - their mistakes." He gives some examples of these (most of which seem like the least of their worries, really) and concludes "As we honor our nation's birth and those who worked to bring it about, we should include some veneration for their willingness to experiment and, just occasionally, get things wrong."

- In yesterday's Post, George Will discusses the Mecklenburg Resolves, that much earlier declaration of independence (20 May 1775, if taken at face value) whose words sound so familiar: "We the citizens of Mecklenburg County do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the mother country. . . . We do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people . . . to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual cooperation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor." Like Widmer, Will is seeking "a moment" (or so, he says, is Peter De Bolla in his new book The Fourth of July and the Founding of America), and also like Widmer he sees that this is a trickier proposition than might be assumed.

But Will brings it home as only Will can do: "What de Bolla calls 'the intricate history of the nation's founding document' does not and should not inhibit Americans from asserting the truth that their nation originated on July 4, 1776. They hold that to be a self-evident truth, which means they have decided to believe it, thereby making it a self-validating tradition. So there."

Happy Fourth, everyone!