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American Scripture


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About the Author

Pauline Maier was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. She received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1960, was a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics in 1960-61, and took her Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1968. She has taught at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts (Boston), University of Wisconsin, Yale University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she has been William R. Kenan, Junior, Professor of American History since 1990. She is the author of From Resistance to Revolution, The Old Revolutionaries, and The American People: A History, a single-authored text for junior high school, as well as numerous other articles and reviews.


To be published July 4 and poised for a big promotional blitz, this book by Maier, Walter J. Kennan Jr. Professor of American History at MIT, shows how the Declaration of Independence has shaped America's identity.

"Splendid. Maier skillfully traces the progress of the Declaration from political event to sacred text."--Washington Post

"Sharp and engaging...A meticulous exhumation of American history that is full of fascinating details and scintillating insights."--San Francisco Chronicle "Gary Wills, stand aside. Pauline Maier has given us the freshest, best-informed historian's reading of the Declaration of Independence and its context that we have ever had. American Scripture enables us to see just how this sacred text was created, and the ways in which it was unique. It is a remarkable achievement!"
-- Richard D. Brown, University of Connecticut "Pauline Maier renders unto Jefferson that which is Jefferson's, but she tells a much larger story. She shows what made the Declaration possible and necessary, considers its lineage, probes its genesis in a time of extreme turmoil, and reflects on its continuing living meaning, achieving all of this in very elegant prose."
-- Edward Countryman, Southern Methodist University "Quite simply the fairest, fullest, and finest account ever written of how the Declaration of Independence happened."
-- Joseph J. Ellis, Mount Holyoke College "Until I read Pauline Maier's remarkable new book, I thought I knew all I needed to know about the Declaration of Independence. But her deft, lively analysis punctures the received mythology and gives us an entirely original interpretation of our founding document."
-- J. Anthony Lukas, author of Common Ground

How is it that a document that was at points derivative, specious, inflated and politically compromised came to take on almost sacred significance in American culture? In fact, few Americans have bothered to examine much beyond a few choice clauses from the preamble ("all men are created equal... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" etc.). But Maier (The Old Revolutionaries) certainly has. After a succinct and engaging account of the circumstances of the Second Continental Congress, she examines Jefferson's models, particularly the state and local declarations of independence framed in the spring of 1776. Maier then looks carefully at the work's original (though now largely ignored) purpose‘the airing of grievances against George III, some of which were localized insults generalized to the nation; some, so vague as to be pointless; some, blinkered versions of complex situations. Having set the stage, Maier then proceeds in the last quarter of her book to describe the evolving significance of the Declaration. Whereas Jefferson began to see it as his best chance at glory with the Republicans, who exploited it as an anti-British instrument, Lincoln used it to refute Stephen Douglas and, ultimately, slavery. It's not a terribly long book and could probably have been shorter‘there are superfluities and tautologies (e.g. restating the point that leveling accusations at the king was the way Englishmen declared revolution). But these are stylistic quibbles. As an argument and an introduction to a crucial artifact of American culture, this book will clearly take its place alongside works by Michael Kammen and Garry Wills. 30,000 first printing. (July 4)

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