The Declaration of Independence as you've never seen it before
Some of us cherish it with near-scriptural reverence. Others simply take it for granted. In this contentious new look at the Declaration of Independence, however, celebrated attorney Alan Dershowitz takes "America's birth certificate" and its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, to task.
Dershowitz searches for the sources, history, and underlying reasoning that produced the Declaration and its particular language, from its reference to the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" through the long list of complaints against the abuses of King George III. He points out contradictions within the document, notes how the meanings of Jefferson's words have changed over the centuries, and asks many disturbing questions, including:
* Where do rights come from?
* Do we have "unalienable rights"?
* Do rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" have any meaning?
* How could slaveowners claim to believe that "all men are created equal"?
* Is the God of the Declaration the God of the Bible?
* Does the Declaration establish a Christian State?
* Are there "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God"?
Challenging, upsetting, and controversial, this brilliant polemic may anger you, delight you, or force you to reexamine your opinions. One thing's for sure: after reading America Declares Independence, you'll never take the Declaration of Independence for granted again.
These are dire times for the Declaration of Independence, Dershowitz believes. The religious right has hijacked the document for its own wily purposes, holding that phrases such as "Nature's God," "Creator" and "Divine Providence" are proof that the Founding Fathers intended America to be an explicitly Christian nation. Not so, cries the noted Harvard Law School professor and prolific author (Supreme Injustice, etc.). To prove his case, Dershowitz focuses mainly on Thomas Jefferson, showing that the Declaration's principal author thought most of the Bible was superstitious drivel: he did not believe in miracles, the devil or anything in the Gospels except that certain words were spoken by Jesus. Rather, Jefferson believed in a deistic God, who set the world in motion and then went on vacation. Jefferson didn't think religion should have anything to do with politics. Thus, Dershowitz says, when Jefferson used the phrases "Nature's God" and "Divine Providence," his contemporaries-most of whom were also deists -understood and approved of his intent. This argument is fine (if familiar) up to a point. But then Dershowitz proves himself nearly as guilty as his foes of "hijacking" the Declaration for his own political goals, attacking enemies like Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Dershowitz also toys with some impossibly speculative ideas, such as that Jefferson would have believed in evolution. There have been many fine books written about Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence; readers can find some of them listed in the endnotes to this threadbare addition to Wiley's Turning Points series. Still, the author being a ubiquitous media presence, the book will garner attention and sales. Agent, Helen Rees. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.