Inventing America (Magill's Literary Annual 1979)
Gary Wills has been a fairly active author over the past few years if one considers his Nixon Agonistes, random articles, and now this work on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. While Wills has earned something of a reputation for promoting novel viewpoints, this most recent work may be his most noteworthy endeavor.
One of the more significant assests of Inventing America—and there are several—lies in its invitation to see the Declaration of Independence within the context of its time. It would appear that Wills is particularly concerned that documents such as Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence have become merely historical monuments to be revered but not necessarily appreciated for intent. As such, Wills attempts here to ferret out not only Jefferson’s essential influences in writing the document, but also his creative purpose. While considerable controversy may be stirred by Wills’s conclusions, his willingness to analyze the contents is admirable.
In many respects, the Declaration of Independence can best be viewed as a product of the Enlightenment. The document was shaped for a new and emerging society that vastly contradicted the major thrust of Western civilization by the 1700’s. Prior to that time, much of the Western world had functioned along classic conservative lines which espoused the doctrine of “collective man.” The underpinnings of the Western world had been the existence...
(The entire section is 1262 words.)
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