There may be a punctuation error in the official copy of the Declaration of Independence displayed at the National Archives and online.
According to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., the period following the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is almost certainly a mistake.
Allen told the New York Times that the period, which doesn’t appear in other copies of the document produced in 1776, has led to a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the Declaration of Independence.
The debated section of transcript at the National Archives currently reads:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
Allen argues that the phrase including “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” should follow “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” without a period, altering the meaning of the sentence.
“The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights,” she told the Times. “You lose that connection when the period gets added.”
Allen has garnered support from other scholars and experts, and now the National Archives is considering changing its official transcript.
“We want to take advantage of this possible new discovery,” William Mayer, the National Archives’ executive for research services, told the Times.