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

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

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

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

Synopsis

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most influential documents in modern history-the inspiration for what would become the most powerful democracy in the world. Indeed, at every stage of American history, the Declaration has been a touchstone for evaluating the legitimacy of legal, social, and political practices. Not only have civil rights activists drawn inspiration from its proclamation of inalienable rights, but individuals decrying a wide variety of governmental abuses have turned for support to the document's enumeration of British tyranny.

In this sweeping synthesis of the Declaration's impact on American life, ranging from 1776 to the present, Alexander Tsesis offers a deeply researched narrative that highlights the many surprising ways in which this document has influenced American politics, law, and society. The drafting of the Bill of Rights, the Reconstruction Amendments, the New Deal, the Civil Rights movement-all are heavily indebted to the Declaration's principles of representative government. Tsesis demonstrates that from the founding on, the Declaration has played a central role in American political and social advocacy, congressional debates, and presidential decisions. He focuses on how successive generations internalized, adapted, and interpreted its meaning, but he also shines a light on the many American failures to live up to the ideals enshrined in the document.

Based on extensive research from primary sources such as newspapers, diaries, letters, transcripts of speeches, and congressional records,For Liberty and Equalityshows how our founding document shaped America through successive eras, and why its influence has always been crucial to the nation and our way of life.

Excerpt

The Declaration of Independence is often idolized, canonized, and even worshiped, with little understanding about the extent to which it has influenced American culture and law. Many people are riveted by the Declaration’s statement of human equality, but the indictment of George III seems to be no more than a relic of an ancient event. Acloser look at more than two centuries of speeches and writings reveals that the Declaration of Independence has had a remarkable influence on American policy making. Politicians and social groups—composed of various races, ethnicities, occupations, genders, coalitions, religions, and levels of education—have shaped the significance of the document. Reformers have found it meaningful for advocating greater inclusiveness and equality. At every stage of American history, the Declaration of Independence provided a cultural anchor for evaluating the legitimacy of legal, social, and political practices. Not only civil rights activists have drawn inspiration from its proclamation of inalienable rights, but individuals decrying governmental abuses have also turned for support to the document’s enumeration of British “tyranny.”

For nearly two and a half centuries, the Declaration has been recited at innumerable Independence Day celebrations. Millions upon millions of Americans have heard, read, and internalized its message. The Declaration’s . . .

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