John Hinderaker is right to call a report on Princeton professor Danielle Allen's discovery of an alleged punctuation error in the standard version of the Constitution that changes utterly the meaning of our founding document "one of the silliest articles I have read in a long time."
Still, while the professor's thesis and gullible New York Times report on it are indeed silly, the whole thing is is fascinating, and ultimately a devious run at changing the concept of government enshrined in the Constitution. Here is the report from the New York Times:
A scholar is now saying that the official transcript of the document produced by the National Archives and Records Administration contains a significant error — smack in the middle of the sentence beginning “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” no less.
The error, according to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., concerns a period that appears right after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the transcript, but almost certainly not, she maintains, on the badly faded parchment original.
That errant spot of ink, she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the document. …
[A]s intended by Thomas Jefferson, she argues, what comes next is just as important: the essential role of governments — “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” — in securing those rights.
“The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights,” Ms. Allen said. “You lose that connection when the period gets added.”
I read the passage both ways–and the period doesn't seem to make a difference.
Nor does it to Hinderaker. In a column headlined "Liberals Rely on Punctuation to Subvert the Constitution," he writes:
So there is the offending period, after “Happiness.” But what if you remove the period? What if you just have the dash? How is the meaning different? It isn’t different at all: Jefferson wrote that a series of truths are self-evident, and he ticked them off. One of the self-evident truths is that governments are created to secure God-given rights, and that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Period or no period, that is what it says.
And, in case you haven’t kept up with modern liberalism as espoused by the New York Times and Princeton (almost monolithically), Jefferson’s words are as fatal to liberalism as garlic to a vampire. The task of government is to secure the rights that the people already possess, having been given them by their Creator? Natural rights? The horror!
Liberals can’t live with the actual text, or the animating spirit, of the Declaration of Independence. But it will take a heck of a lot more than disputing the placement of a period for them to undermine the timeless truths of the Declaration.
There is yet another flaw in Professor Allen's analysis. The headline is "If Only Jefferson Could Settle the Issue."
But he could and did.
The standard copy of the Constitution we use was based on the now very fragile copy in the National Archives. It was made and circulated in 1823. Jefferson and Adams both died July 4, 1826. John Madison, aka "The Father of the Constitution," was with us until 1836.
Is it conceivable that all three of these men would neglect to point out a printer's error in the most important thing they accomplished in their lives and a document they knew to be of the utmost significance to human history?