Inventing America Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

Inventing America Jefferson's Declaration of Independence


  • Paperback
  • 432 pages
  • Inventing America Jefferson's Declaration of Independence
  • Garry Wills
  • English
  • 06 September 2015
  • 9780618257768

10 thoughts on “Inventing America Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

  1. Wally Hartshorn Wally Hartshorn says:

    I’m not sure how to rate or review this book It was interesting and I learned uite a bit from it but for me it was not a page turnerIt is an extremely academic book intended for those with an existing knowledge that I did not have In addition the author freuently uotes extensive passages in French with no translation The middle bit gets uite deep into discussions of philosophy which I admit I have little patience for As a result I thought than once about abandoning it However I am glad that I did not because after the philosophy discussions the book became much interesting for meI don’t know that I will ever read this book again but it has motivated me to read about the events and the people of this time period If you have a good background in the topic and don’t mind detailed discussions of philosophy this book probably deserves 4 5 stars For me 35 stars seems about right


  2. Mark Valentine Mark Valentine says:

    Wills' book presents an intellectual biography and a historical record of Jefferson and his Declaration He parses Jefferson's document and provides the influences that went into his thinking I found it a revelationI was unaware of the Scottish Enlightenment and its proponents Hutcheson Hume and Locke's role seemed minimal to Jefferson's regard for the Scotsmen Learning this deepened my understandingAdditionally I found Jefferson's reading list intriguing Sterne Bacon Blackstone Burke Chastellux Condorcet Reid Voltaire have become tree branches in evidence of Jefferson's complex tree of thinkingMost of all I respect Wills' emphasis on understanding the age in which Jefferson lived and making the effort to know THAT rather then reading a sentence or two and giving it a glib interpretation based on our current political or social needs Reading this has grounded me in a deeper way; reading FOR history not just reading history means to me understanding the range of choices that an individual had here Jefferson in order to respect his or her choices I think this essential reading for any who wish to know and understand this era Wills' account provides the high watermark for intellectual histories If this book is assigned reading I'm signing up for that class


  3. Nathan Albright Nathan Albright says:

    Let it be clearly understood this is a bad book but it is bad in an instructive way  In reading this book I was struck by how often the author makes air uotes around two or three words at a time and makes strong statements that are unsupported by other sources and the book does not even include endnotes and a bibliography at the end which this book really is missing  It struck me that the author was using the texts of the American founding in search of proof texts for his own progressive political ideology and came to the texts as someone looking for support for his defective worldview rather than as someone seeking to learn from them or seeking to understand the Founding Fathers as they were  The author makes a particularly ironic comment that looking anachronistically at the founders causes problems and proceeds to do that through the entirety of this book  To be sure Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence are popular subjects for people to write about 1 but there are far better books one can look at if one wants to know about what Thomas Jefferson write  All one finds out here is what Garry Wills thinks and that is not particularly worthwhileThis book consists of 27 fairly short chapters totaling about 360 pages in five parts  The first part looks at the Declaration of Independence as a revolutionary charter the second part as a scientific paper the third part as a moral paper the fourth part as a sentimental paper and the fifth part as a symbol  Throughout the author's attempts to examine the different layers of the Declaration of Independence and the origin of Thomas Jefferson's thought are undercut by a variety of assumptions  Among these is the way that the author seeks to discredit Thomas Jefferson on account of his conduct as a slaveowner while simultaneously claiming from Thomas Jefferson a legitimacy for his own form of egalitarian politics  The author's ambivalence towards its subject and his confidence in his own insight and knowledge lead him to combine a sound comparison of Thomas Jefferson's thought with that of the Scottish enlightenment and with some unsound and facile repetitions of the trite statement that the American founders were slavish imitators of the Whig tradition of political thinkers  The raw materials for a good book are present but this author is simply not euipped to take his subject matter seriously enough and respectfully enough to make this a good bookIn reading this book we find out a little bit about Thomas Jefferson but much of that is unreliable because it depends on the word of the author and uite frankly he is not someone whose word can be trusted as an authority of anything  Really we find out far in this book about Gary Wills and that is instructive in dealing with progressive political philosophy in general  We learn the ways that the thought of the founding fathers is mined for proof texts to support bogus contemporary political ideas and how there is a great deal of chronological snobbery even in those who claim an expertise in classics  The author also makes some fundamental assumptions that are unexamined such as the extent to which we can look at Thomas Jefferson as a representative example of the political thought of his time  We can also learn that even people who fancy themselves smart can be extremely foolish such as the way that the author continually misrepresents the founders as having created thirteen states rather than one nation  When the author shows himself unable to understand the nature of American federalism from the moment of its founding something amply demonstrated for example by Harry Jaffa in his own writings on the Declaration of Independence it is hard to believe what he has to say about anything else1 See for example


  4. Shawn Shawn says:

    Well the rating really doesn’t matter I learned much from this book Very academic really aimed at his peer historians Jeffersonians also contains important insights into property race relations human rights Wills teaches us much about the Scottish enlightenment He aims to see through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson reveals his collection of books and points toward his contemporaries There are some very dense parts like the first part picking away at what was changed from the rough draft to the final draft or sifting through his other compositions to get inside his mind Readers might want to brush up on the history government lessons prior to reading this I should’ve important names in literature Locke Diderot Hume Hutcheson Adam Smith Richard Henry Lee Ben Franklin et al are referenced over and again and there are French and Latin words here and there I saw a review complaining about the absence of any translations but I found it a higher point to try and read the French anyway as a sort of lab like experiment in etymology I don’t know French but did take three years Spanish and wasn’t too bothered by it Some other stuff Wills makes clear points and cogent arguments He has a stance Mainly that as I understand Jefferson did not advocate the philosophy of John Locke but that of Scottish thinkers Francis Hutcheson and Hume The difference is that the former is self centered and pro individual property the latter humane realistic yet ultimately idealistic The book’s certainly a scholarly work Chapters short some are dense and some pass rather easily The author goes everywhere from natural science discussion on how people thought Africans and Indians were blurred into the animal kingdom bestiality between orangutan and woman views on the moral capacity of non whites their fidelity shared sense for communal well being the exposition of Jefferson’s writings; the inventive mind of Rittenhouse and Franklin are referred to in the beginning parts the orrery the watch the telescope the meaning of revolution; it’s a solid book for the discussion of how America became


  5. Greg Greg says:

    It was difficult to assign the correct star rating for this book because while on the one hand it is a superb example of in depth scholarship and the result of an exceptional range of reading primary sources it is also not really a book for the average reader not because readers lack the necessary intelligence but because much of what Wills explores here fits in the kind of arcane category about which professional historians are most likely to find interestingNonetheless for the patient reader the rewards are great indeedWhat Wills attempts to do most soundly in my judgement is to help us in our time understand the mind of Jefferson how he thought what the words he used meant to him etc so as to better understand the product he produced in the Declaration of Independence Along the way you will learn among other things Why the Declaration was in its day seen as a necessary step for winning foreign especially French assistance in the colonies' struggle against Great Britain Why Jefferson persisted throughout the rest of his life to prefer his unchanged original document to the one eventually adopted by the assembly after amending it The complex circumstances behind and in Jefferson's thoughts about black people slavery itself and the problem of how to eliminate it once it had taken a strong foothold The amazing mathematical reasoning behind so much of what Jefferson wrote The influence of the ethical thought of the Scottish school upon Jefferson's framing of euality and the inalienable rights of all How our modern indeed loudly vitriolic age makes it difficult for us to understand both liberalism and conservatism as these terms were used in the 18th centuryAn immensely impressive accomplishment


  6. Paul Haspel Paul Haspel says:

    In July of 1776 against the sweltering heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer a new nation was born The instrument of its birth was a 1300 word document the Declaration of Independence the work of a shy 33 year old Virginian named Thomas Jefferson Inventing America is Garry Wills’s exploration of the history both political and intellectual of the Declaration Wills today an emeritus professor of history at Northwestern University wrote this book back in 1978; then as now he displays a formidable degree of erudition and seems to know absolutely everything And he brings that erudition to bear most effectively in considering the Declaration from a variety of angles – historic political philosophical scientific and moralWhen engaging the political history of the Declaration Wills interrogates the terms we use to talk about the American Revolution – indeed down to the word “revolution” itself a term that Wills links with England’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 There was no “overturn” of a central government in the American Revolution no decapitated king in Paris no basement execution of a czar George III ruled for another four decades and Lord North’s career continued despite his voluntary resignation But Americans were willing to call their action a revolution precisely because it was an orderly and legal procedure The first English meaning of “revolution” had been astronomical – the revolving of the heavens an exchange of planetary positions; or the “period” which is simply “revolution” in Greek covered by such alterations p 51; emphasis in originalAptly in a section titled “The Scientific Paper” Wills focuses on how Jefferson’s faith in science affected his authorship of the Declaration as when he discusses Jefferson’s “persistent and thorough admiration” for “America’s supreme mechanic David Rittenhouse” and goes on to suggest that “Jefferson’s praise of Rittenhouse was an extension of the conventions surrounding the cult of Newton who was often compared to his own Maker as a governor of the universe by thought” p 100 So mathematically minded was Jefferson the creator of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” that “He even thought of happiness the pursuit of which is sometimes called the vaguest thing in the Declaration as susceptible of numbered measurement and distribution” – even if as Wills argues “Jefferson let the beauty of a mathematically regular scheme blind him to the recalcitrant human realities being schematized” pp 147 48Wills also focuses on the Declaration as “A Moral Paper” emphasizing the great Virginian’s debt to thinkers like Frances Hutcheson David Hume and Henry Home Lord Kames That famous phrase about “the pursuit of happiness” comes into play once again as Hutcheson who in 1725 had written of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” influenced Jefferson’s 1776 use of the term “happiness” in a decisive way Jefferson’s “use of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as the natural right to rank with life and liberty is not a vague or ‘idealistic’ or ill defined action but one consistent with everything else he wrote in the Declaration and outside it” p 255 The Declaration of Independence is a document in which Jefferson brings together the scientific sense and the moral sense of his timeIn considering Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence Wills does not shy from considering Jefferson’s views on race and slavery Characteristically judicious Wills suggests that Jefferson “can be uoted to sound like an ardent abolitionist or to sound like the most oppressive of masters” but that Jefferson “always opposed enslavement in general and further slave imports to Virginia in particular” p 299 So far so good one would think – but there is another side to Jefferson’s attitude toward slavery “He always supported the freeing of slaves en masse but always and only in connection with a scheme of deportation” p 299 As always Jefferson’s attitudes regarding slavery and race like Jefferson himself are maddeningly complexWills closes by considering the Declaration as “national symbol” pointing out among other things that notwithstanding that great painting of all those Signers there in Philadelphia ready to sign promptly on July 4 1776 it didn’t really happen that way at all “Was it ever ‘the Fourth’? For Jefferson died on the anniversary of a day that never was The Fourth includes celebration of some things that happened on different days and of other things that did not happen at all” p 351 – and may Wills suggests have taken on its significance in our national life because of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dying on the same day – July 4 1826 In that reading “The huge glow cast through the years from the Fourth was not visible to the men who worked and argued through the actual July 4 of 1776 It is in every way an afterglow drawing almost as much of its intensity from the deathbeds of these two men as from the event that took place fifty years before” p 351; emphasis in originalThe United States of America draws its collective national sense of itself from the Declaration of Independence Understanding the Declaration and its importance in our lives is as vital a task today as it was when the nation was brand new In Inventing America Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence Garry Wills provides a well reasoned thoroughly researched and intellectually rigorous examination of those 1300 words that started a nation


  7. Paul Haspel Paul Haspel says:

    In July of 1776 against the sweltering heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer a new nation was born The instrument of its birth was a 1300 word document the Declaration of Independence the work of a shy 33 year old Virginian named Thomas Jefferson Inventing America is Garry Wills’s exploration of the history both political and intellectual of the Declaration Wills today an emeritus professor of history at Northwestern University wrote this book back in 1978; then as now he displays a formidable degree of erudition and seems to know absolutely everything And he brings that erudition to bear most effectively in considering the Declaration from a variety of angles – historic political philosophical scientific and moralWhen engaging the political history of the Declaration Wills interrogates the terms we use to talk about the American Revolution – indeed down to the word “revolution” itself a term that Wills links with England’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 There was no “overturn” of a central government in the American Revolution no decapitated king in Paris no basement execution of a czar George III ruled for another four decades and Lord North’s career continued despite his voluntary resignation But Americans were willing to call their action a revolution precisely because it was an orderly and legal procedure The first English meaning of “revolution” had been astronomical – the revolving of the heavens an exchange of planetary positions; or the “period” which is simply “revolution” in Greek covered by such alterations p 51; emphasis in originalAptly in a section titled “The Scientific Paper” Wills focuses on how Jefferson’s faith in science affected his authorship of the Declaration as when he discusses Jefferson’s “persistent and thorough admiration” for “America’s supreme mechanic David Rittenhouse” and goes on to suggest that “Jefferson’s praise of Rittenhouse was an extension of the conventions surrounding the cult of Newton who was often compared to his own Maker as a governor of the universe by thought” p 100 So mathematically minded was Jefferson the creator of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” that “He even thought of happiness the pursuit of which is sometimes called the vaguest thing in the Declaration as susceptible of numbered measurement and distribution” – even if as Wills argues “Jefferson let the beauty of a mathematically regular scheme blind him to the recalcitrant human realities being schematized” pp 147 48Wills also focuses on the Declaration as “A Moral Paper” emphasizing the great Virginian’s debt to thinkers like Frances Hutcheson David Hume and Henry Home Lord Kames That famous phrase about “the pursuit of happiness” comes into play once again as Hutcheson who in 1725 had written of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” influenced Jefferson’s 1776 use of the term “happiness” in a decisive way Jefferson’s “use of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as the natural right to rank with life and liberty is not a vague or ‘idealistic’ or ill defined action but one consistent with everything else he wrote in the Declaration and outside it” p 255 The Declaration of Independence is a document in which Jefferson brings together the scientific sense and the moral sense of his timeIn considering Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence the book's subtitle Wills does not shy from considering Jefferson’s views on race and slavery Characteristically judicious Wills suggests that Jefferson “can be uoted to sound like an ardent abolitionist or to sound like the most oppressive of masters” but that Jefferson “always opposed enslavement in general and further slave imports to Virginia in particular” p 299 So far so good one would think – but there is another side to Jefferson’s attitude toward slavery “He always supported the freeing of slaves en masse but always and only in connection with a scheme of deportation” p 299 As always Jefferson’s attitudes regarding slavery and race like Jefferson himself are maddeningly complexWills closes by considering the Declaration as “national symbol” pointing out among other things that notwithstanding that great painting of all those Signers there in Philadelphia ready to sign promptly on July 4 1776 it didn’t really happen that way at all “Was it ever ‘the Fourth’? For Jefferson died on the anniversary of a day that never was The Fourth includes celebration of some things that happened on different days and of other things that did not happen at all” p 351 – and may Wills suggests have taken on its significance in our national life because of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dying on the same day – July 4 1826 In that reading “The huge glow cast through the years from the Fourth was not visible to the men who worked and argued through the actual July 4 of 1776 It is in every way an afterglow drawing almost as much of its intensity from the deathbeds of these two men as from the event that took place fifty years before” p 351; emphasis in originalThe United States of America draws its collective national sense of itself from the Declaration of Independence Understanding the Declaration and its importance in our lives is as vital a task today as it was when the nation was brand new In Inventing America Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence Garry Wills provides a well reasoned thoroughly researched and intellectually rigorous examination of those 1300 words that started a nation


  8. Ethan Healey Ethan Healey says:

    Willis has a way if writing that helped me tremendously in my research of Jefferson


  9. Mike Horne Mike Horne says:

    I thought this was a great book but I am not sure now His thesis is that Jefferson's Declaration is anti Lockean He was much infulence Francis Hutcheson and the Scottish Enlightenment I got lost in this book I have always had my students read excerpts from the Second Treatise and the Declaration sure sounds like Locke As far as I can make out Wills thinks that Jefferson was communitarian than a believer in individual rights I will have to read the whole Second Treatise again Most of the scholarly reviews I read did not seem to buy Wills argument But he did make me change my mind about the thesis of the Declaration I always have said it was the last portion of the second paragraph The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations Now I am convinced it is When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another


  10. Jamie Jamie says:

    Not so well written as his later works but still excellent Wills takes an exacting look at the drafting of the Declaration of Independence He did a wonderful job tracing how earlier events and earlier petitions lead to the Declaration as written This explains many of the phrases and the reasons for them While the preamble is now the most commonly cited portion of the document Congress spent most of its time compiling the list of greivances Wills does a good job explaining now mostly forgotten facts For example Sam Adams was a principal actor and orchestrated many important events yet he preferred to remain behind the scenes writing no pamphlets having burned or destroyed most of his correspondence Great book


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Inventing America Jefferson's Declaration of Independence[PDF / Epub] ★ Inventing America Jefferson's Declaration of Independence By Garry Wills – Larringtonlifecoaching.co.uk From one of America's foremost historians Inventing America compares Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence with the final accepted version thereby challenging many long From one of America's foremost Jefferson's Declaration PDF Ë historians Inventing America compares Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence with the final accepted version thereby challenging Inventing America eBook Ê many long cherished assumptions about both the man and the document Although Jefferson has long been idealized as a champion of individual rights Wills argues that America Jefferson's Declaration PDF/EPUB ½ in fact his vision was one in which interdependence not self interest lay at the foundation of society.


About the Author: Garry Wills

Garry Wills is an author Jefferson's Declaration PDF Ë and historian and a freuent contributor to the New York Review of Books In he won a Pulitzer Prize Inventing America eBook Ê for General Non Fiction for his book Lincoln at Gettysburg The Words That Remade America which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address America Jefferson's Declaration PDF/EPUB ½ on November .