Friday, July 4, 2014

Ambiguity in the Declaration of Independence?

Per the New York Times:
A scholar is now saying that the official transcript of the document produced by the National Archives and Records Administration contains a significant error — smack in the middle of the sentence beginning “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” no less.

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.

A punctuation error that affects the interpretation of one of our founding documents is potentially a very big deal. The Declaration is one of the two documents at the heart of the story we tell ourselves, the story of what our nation was intended to be.

On the other hand ... we've been poring over these documents for more than two centuries. I doubt a punctuation mistake will lead to some radical, totally unexpected interpretation of the Declaration. It would be unfortunate if any new interpretation led to the kind of seemingly endless and destructive imbroglio that surrounds the Second Amendment, but maybe it will lead instead to the kind of ongoing vital debate we have about the First.

Should be interesting to see what comes of this.

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