It is the most revolutionary political statement in American history. The Declaration of Independence was more than an announcement that thirteen colonies intended to "dissolve the political bands" that bound them to their former rulers; it proclaimed a new and inspiring vision of the principles and purposes of government. But is the Declaration a "bridge between the Bible and the Constitution," as some claim? Do human beings actually have "unalienable rights"? How could slaveowners honestly claim to believe that "all men are created equal"?
In America Declares Independence, one of the nation’s most distinguished and celebrated attorneys tackles these and other disturbing questions head on. Noting that portions of the Declaration are frequently "wrenched out of context by partisan pleaders to promote parochial causes," Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz explores the document’s history, theology, and political theory in search of its true and enduring meaning. No stranger to controversy, Dershowitz also assails some of the Declaration’s underlying assumptions and questions the conclusions that these assumptions produced.
Drawing on the personal letters and published writings of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and others, Dershowitz demonstrates that the men who wrote and revised the Declaration had no intention of establishing a Christian nation. He reveals that Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration, "rejected all the central tenets of orthodox Christianity" and closely resembled what today’s Religious Right would call a "secular humanist."
In what becomes, in essence, an argument with Jefferson, Dershowitz examines the use of "natural law" to support the colonists’ right to secede from Great Britain. He distinguishes this concept from Divine Revelation, which was anathema to Jefferson, and he contends that the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" claimed under this natural law are importantnot because they are unalienable, but because they are not.
In his examinations of the contradictions inherent in the Declaration regarding equality and slavery, Dershowitz points out Jefferson’s personal contradictions on the issue. His complex set of conflicting ideas and beliefs is seen as a microcosm of the conflicts over slavery that existed at the time and would eventually lead to the Civil War.
Stimulating, combative, and relentlessly challenging, this brilliant and pugnacious review of "America’s birth certificate" is sure to provoke indignant responses from many quarters. Its irreverence may shock you, its revelations may surprise you, but its keen insights into America’s most fundamental principles and what they mean today will fill you with a new and deeper appreciation of the power of our founding document and how it changed the world.