THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE by James Munves

THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

What youngster would want to tarry with Thomas Jefferson, ""his stockinged feet resting on the freshly sanded floor,"" as he labors over draft after draft of the Declaration of Independence, changing a word here or a line there? And, in between, hurries off to uneventful meetings at the State House or Smith's Tavern? Interspersed with this tenuous narrative are type reconstructions--and some reproductions--of the various drafts, presumably to enable the assiduous scholar to compare wordings or note idiosyncratic spellings for himself. Still, it's slow going (""Jefferson took a new sheet of paper and folded it in half"") and not easy to follow (""On the fourth page of the new folder went one paragraph that covered the top half of the third page of the old folder"")--and the level of analysis is simply not worth the labor. Especially since the long-standing Carl Becker interpretation of the Declaration, upon which Munves draws, has been significantly challenged and/or amplified by Garry Wills' recent Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and Morton White's forthcoming The Philosophy of the American Revolution--both of which, for instance, make hash of Munves' facile handling of the pursuit of property/pursuit of happiness issue. Students not yet ready for such substantive treatments had best depend on Henry Commager's solid old Great Declaration or Mary Kay Phelan's dramatic Four Days in Philadelphia.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1978
Publisher: Scribners