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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Birthday, America! The Declaration of Independence Has a Typo

Posted by on Thu, Jul 3, 2014 at 3:34 PM

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.


Comments (15) RSS

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Collin 1
Let's not forget the Constitution and its grammatical fuck-up of "...a more perfect union...."
Posted by Collin on July 3, 2014 at 3:46 PM · Report this
If Teabaggers cared about punctuation they'd have to admit that the right to keep and bear arms is inextricably linked to being a member of a "well-regulated militia."
Posted by SuperSteve on July 3, 2014 at 4:10 PM · Report this
I don't think it's possible to have typos in a hand-written document. I think typos only occur when something is either typed or set in type. Otherwise, what we're talking about are punctuation errors, editing errors, or transcription errors.
Posted by Clayton on July 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM · Report this
treacle 4
the Founding Fathers [...] 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.

And yet, when the government violates the Constitution, we don't fire the Government, rework the constitution, and try again... We just try to "amend" and patch-up the problems. Which, IMHO, isn't really working all that well.

France is on it's 5th re-written constitution since 1789. Each time the Govt transgresses, there are actual consequences - the last being the Vichy Govt during WWII. Unlike here where Presidents get pardoned, and corporate briber- er, gifts will now go unreported.

On the other hand, given the terrible political literacy in this country --to say nothing of literacy in general. Or logic-- I wouldn't really trust U.S. to re-write the Constitution at this point in history.

Posted by treacle on July 3, 2014 at 4:22 PM · Report this
and no one fought back against birthers with "WHO THE FUCK CARES?"... no no, try to fight back with reason in a country that is in fact somewhat shoddy about stupid birth certs.

Because something special happens to your blood and brain when someone popped your ass out on to sovereign soil.
Posted by Agrippa on July 3, 2014 at 5:49 PM · Report this
fletc3her 6
It would surprise me if this is the only transcription error in a handwritten document of that length.
Posted by fletc3her on July 3, 2014 at 6:15 PM · Report this
I acquired some Kindle versions of various classic works from Amazon, because they are free or for 99 cents, and among them are the Declaration, the Constitution.

I read the Dec over a couple of nights ago. You know it surprises me that while most have heard the very lofty, general support of the idea of freedom, most of it are points of redress directed very specifically to King George. So it's all "whereas he does this" and "whereas he does that".

It shows that the United States was formed not so much as a Utopian society, but really by a bunch of people who were tired of oppression and wanted to throw off a bunch of top feeders who were harassing and taxing them more then they had a right to. It is part political...but in the mainstay, it is also economic! It is a revolution by the downtrodden against the overseers!

The Constitution, and its predecessor, the Articles of Confederation, were not the basis of this country, but more like minimal rules of order for daily management. Only the Declaration of Independence is primary to this nation's foundation. And it describes not what to do, but what not to do to us.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on July 3, 2014 at 7:38 PM · Report this
smade 8
@7 But unlike the founding fathers, you have representation to go with your taxation, so the analogy fails utterly.
Posted by smade on July 3, 2014 at 10:25 PM · Report this
venomlash 9
@7: Not to mention, the Declaration of Independence is NOT a foundational text for our system of government. It's "why we don't like this previous system", not "here are the rules for the system". Ladies and gentlemen, I shall tell you again that JBITSMFOTP.
Posted by venomlash on July 3, 2014 at 10:39 PM · Report this
Not to mention that grammatical mess that is the second amendment.
Posted by jeffy on July 3, 2014 at 11:00 PM · Report this
@7 Oh yeah, plantation-scale slaveholders like St. George Washington and St. Thom. Jefferson were downtrodden and oppressed.
Posted by crankybiker on July 3, 2014 at 11:00 PM · Report this
Then the Lord's Prayer:
"Lead us not into temptation"...
Why would god lead us into temptation? For shits and giggles?
Posted by jeffy on July 3, 2014 at 11:03 PM · Report this
@12 "Why would god lead us into temptation? For shits and giggles?"

The Book of Job addresses that. A curious Book indeed. Well worthy of study and reflection.
Posted by Machiavelli was framed on July 4, 2014 at 12:44 AM · Report this
Knat 14
Literacy and self identification as a member of the Tea Party are mutually exclusive characteristics.

@13: The Cliff's Notes version of Job is: God doesn't care about your happiness or well-being (or the lives of your family), and is totally willing to flush all of it to prove a point, if challenged by someone he doesn't respect in the first place.
Posted by Knat on July 4, 2014 at 9:12 AM · Report this
The founding fathers didn't make the "typo." The people who created this particular transcript did.
Posted by J from Oregon on July 4, 2014 at 9:15 AM · Report this

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