The newsLINK Group - The Surprising Importance of Punctuation

Editorial Library Category: Education Topics: Trivia Title: The Surprising Importance of Punctuation Author: newsLINK Staff Synopsis: Danielle Allen, professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, questions a long-accepted period in the transcript of the Declaration of Independence, which changes the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Editorial: The Surprising Importance of Punctuation 4064 South Highland Drive, Millcreek, Utah 84124 │ thenewslinkgroup.com │ (v) 801.676.9722 │ (tf) 855.747.4003 │ (f) 801.742.5803 Editorial Library | © The newsLINK Group LLC 1 Thomas Jefferson, third president of the U.S., was a gifted and prolific writer who wrote 50,000 letters as part of his efforts to end British domination and create a new government. Probably the greatest writing achievement of his life, however, was the Declaration of Independence, which he drafted over a 17-day period that started on June 11, 1776 and ended on June 28, 1776. When Jefferson was asked to help write a declaration, he decided to rent a house and hid out there by himself until he had written something he thought would be appropriate. The eloquent, profound words he wrote during those solitary days were then adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and they gave birth both to the American Revolution and a new nation. All of this is old news about a subject U.S. historians thought was settled. But on July 2, 2014, the New York Times published an article by Jennifer Schuessler about some research by Danielle Allen. Professor Allen, who is at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, questions a long-accepted period in the transcript of the Declaration of Independence, which was copied by a man named Timothy Matlack. She points out that the period did not exist in the original document written by Thomas Jefferson, in a rough draft of the document, or in other documents that were reviewed by that first Congress. Its presence would be an understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. Her argument is compelling enough to have persuaded other experts that she just might be right. For example, Joseph J. Ellis is supporting her efforts to open a line of questioning about whether that period really should have been there at all. The only question is whether studying the original is even possible, given its deterioration over more than two centuries. Advanced imaging techniques might provide a definitive answer, but the ink might be too faded at this point for any successful analysis. If the mistake is real, then it was being made while the document was being copied; until now, it had been overlooked by everyone else. This is not as surprising as it might seem. Proofreading is a difficult art, because people see what they expect to see; not only that, but the fragile original is so badly faded as to be illegible, so it isn’t like people can easily compare the transcript with the original. A later copy, made by an engraver named William Stone in 1823, was made after the original was already badly faded. Mr. Stone, who took three years to create his copperplate version, was extremely careful but may have been forced to compare the original with other versions where it was impossible to read the original. What difference does a period make? According to Professor Allen, taking out the period changes the emphasis in the text. Jefferson listed what he said were self-evident truths: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s where the period is located, and it provides an end to the list. Effectively, therefore, the next phrase is subordinate to Jefferson’s self-evident truths. However, the problem is that if the period isn’t there, it doesn’t put an end to the list and it doesn’t subordinate anything. There is an em dash right after the period. Think that em dash as a signal that Jefferson is about to expand on what he has just said. What is the next part? It is about the role of government. As an expansion, it is on an equal level with life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness as listed in the first part of the sentence. In other words, the role of government is just as important as Jefferson’s self-evident truths, because government is what secures those rights. Sources: http://news.msn.com/us/have-we-been-reading-the- declaration-of-independence-all-wrong-1 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/politics/a-period- is-questioned-in-the-declaration-of- independence.html?partner=rss&.mc=rss&.r=0&_r=1 http://gardenofpraise.com/ibdjeff.htm

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