The Peculiar Period on The Declaration of Independece

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness(.)”

U.S historians have been in uproar in the past week, with the 4th of July and all, since professor Danielle Allen has highlighted the error in punctuation on The Declaration of Independence which might have not been found on the original. Namely, the period that follows the sentence “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” seems to be out of place.

Although this might seem a seemingly small error, it does actually play a substantial role in changing the actual meaning of the phrase, in the sense that in addition to the pursuit of happiness, Thomas Jefferson continued on to add the significant role of government- “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Danielle Allen says that this has had a major role to play in the document’s misunderstanding.

Interestingly, she discovered the incongruous period while she was comparing a transcript of the document, and the original which seems to be devoid of it. In her book, “Our Declaration”, Allen contradicts the long time belief that Thomas Jefferson’s Libertarian principles were truly so keen on individualism. This of course very much true as the addition of the “role of government” to the list of self-evident truths seems something that John Adams might have done. Perhaps a testament to the fact that John Adams also served on the committee that revised the document.

Allen has in fact said that:

That the Founding Fathers “had much greater clarity about the value of government, and the importance of the egalitarian bond among citizens,”

The extent this might be true is not completely quantifiable as a result of historical discrepancies, however we can be sure of one thing: Thomas Jefferson might have wanted less government, but this shows that he did not support its weakening to the point of futility.


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