Before you go share this New York Times story with your Teabaggy relatives, you might want to get the smelling salts—it turns out the Founding Fathers may have (Gasp! Choke!) left a typo in the Declaration of Independence:
The error, according to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., concerns a period that appears right after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the transcript, but almost certainly not, she maintains, on the badly faded parchment original.
That errant spot of ink, she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the document.
The period creates the impression that the list of self-evident truths ends with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she says. But as intended by Thomas Jefferson, she argues, what comes next is just as important: the essential role of governments — “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” — in securing those rights.
So the actual sentence would look something like this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — 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.
Pish-posh, an unnaturally literate Teabagger might say, everyone knows the Founding Fathers created American government specifically because they loathe governments! The point of this story is not so much that a single piece of punctuation should change the entire history and philosophy of the country. If the period was never there in the first place, we'd still be having the same arguments with the same people. But the point of the story, as far as I'm concerned, is that the Founding Fathers weren't the infallible gods that Teabaggers want them to be. They made mistakes. The Constitution has typos, too, and that's okay. We're a country of human beings. It's comforting to know that our founding documents have errors, because it reminds us that the country is a work in progress, and can always be improved.