Scholar Spots Error In Official Declaration Of Independence Copy

This undated image released by Britain's National Archives Thursday, July 2, 2009, shows a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence, which has been discovered at the National Archives in Kew, England. T... This undated image released by Britain's National Archives Thursday, July 2, 2009, shows a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence, which has been discovered at the National Archives in Kew, England. The rare copy of the American Declaration of Independence has been found hidden in a file at the British National Archives. The Archives say that the print, known as the Dunlap print after the printer who commissioned it, is the 26th copy of the document to be found. The last Dunlap print found was sold at an auction for $8.14 million in 2000. Archives spokeswoman Katrina McClintock said Thursday that the file was found by a researcher looking through late 18th Century files for something unrelated. McClintock said it was discovered months ago but not revealed to the public until it could be extracted and catalogued. (AP Photo/National Archives) ** EDITORIAL USE ONLY ** MORE LESS
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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.

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