Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas

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The Declaration of Independence

Carl L. Becker's important study is an analysis of the concepts expressed in the Declaration. Here is a lucid explanation of what the Declaration really is, what views it sets forth, where those views arose, and how they have been accepted or modified by succeeding generations. A book that every American should read.

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Review:

When Carl L. Becker's classic study of the text of the Declaration of Independence first appeared in 1922, it marked a great departure from the passionate and patriotic tenor of many existing historical analyses. Becker claims his work was well received by all reviewers save one, who criticized its preoccupation with hard cold documents. In the 1941 introduction to this edition, Becker defends his approach, stating: "I was aware that men had bled and died for freedom.... But on this occasion I chose to write a book about the document itself ... a state paper of sufficient renown to be classed with the world's classics of political literature."

Becker describes the rhythm of the first line of the Declaration of Independence as "that felicitous, haunting cadence which is the peculiar quality of Jefferson's best writing." He goes on to define the purpose of the document, its views, where those views arose, and how succeeding generations have accepted or modified them. Chapters such as "Historical Antecedents of the Declaration: The Natural Rights Philosophy," "Drafting the Declaration; The Literary Qualities of the Declaration," and "The Philosophy of the Declaration in the Nineteenth Century" distinguish this book as one of the most complete studies of America's--and arguably the world's--most important historical document.

About the Author:

Carl L. Becker, born in Lincoln Township, Iowa, in 1873, was Professor of History at Cornell University from 1917 to 1941. Educated at Cornell College, Iowa, at the University of Wisconsin, and at Columbia, he taught at Pennsylvania State, Dartmouth, and the universities of Kansas and Minnesota before going to Cornell. He died in Ithaca, New York, in 1945. His books include Progress and Power (1936), How New Will the Better World Be? (1944), and Freedom and Responsibility in the American Way of Life (1945).

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