For Liberty and Equality: The Life and Times of the Declaration of Independence

By Esposito, Frank J. | The Historian, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

For Liberty and Equality: The Life and Times of the Declaration of Independence


Esposito, Frank J., The Historian


For Liberty and Equality: The Life and Times of the Declaration of Independence. By Alexander Tsesis. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. 397. $29.95.)

The power of the words of the Declaration of Independence resonate to this day. They have both caused and energized revolutions for over two hundred years. Specific phrases such as the need for "consent of the governed" in order to rule and the logical extension of that wording--that this consent could also be withdrawn by the people--have continued to motivate individuals from the time they were written to the recent "Arab Spring" and "Occupy" movements. The Declaration also popularized the right--and obligation--to engage in revolution when faced with tyranny.

In this well-researched and brilliantly written book, Alexander Tsesis details the story of the creation of the Declaration and its long-term impact on America and the world. It consists of chapters highlighting the Declaration's impact on the Civil War, Reconstruction, civil rights, and women's issues. Tsesis points out the significant impact of the document in providing "a standard by which government actions could be assessed" (3).

The Declaration is, as the author states, not only a "lustrous artifact" of American history but, more importantly, a "statement of a living creed" (5). As such, it is a treasure that we should continually use for our decisions on the new challenges we face. In this regard, Tsesis skillfully argues that the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court ruled that corporations have the same rights to free speech as people, was questionable "because it elevated the rights of corporations, which are artificial persons, with natural persons' inalienable right of political expression" (317). …

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