A novel perspective on American history that focuses on the story of the country's founding documents and the Americans who composed, safeguarded, and preserved them for the benefit of future generations.
American History magazine contributor Puleo (The Caning: The Assault that Drove America to Civil War, 2012, etc.) concentrates not on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and other documents but rather their preservation. Near the beginning of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt had requested that Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress, prepare a plan to safeguard the nation's key founding documents. He feared that Hitler would bomb the capital city. MacLeish had to select the documents to protect as well as safe storage sites. That endeavor provides Puleo with a unique frame for a recounting of the history of the physical documents and their continued existence as well as the revered history of their creation. The author's fast-moving presentation combines the familiar stories of their adoption and passage with those of their subsequent production and dissemination. The Declaration of Independence passed on July 2, not July 4, and the official signing didn’t take place until a month later. Only after four more months did all the names appear on the copy held by the printer. The author makes it clear not only how dangerous it was to be associated with those awe-inspiring documents, but also how threatened they were. Without the courageous initiative of Dolly Madison, for example, it is doubtful the treasures could have been saved from destruction in the fires set by the British during the War of 1812. The drafting and circumstances of delivery of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address helps round out the picture. In addition to threats, anniversaries and celebrations continue to call forth efforts to preserve and protect these precious documents from enemies and the passage of time.
A solid retelling of an inspiring story.