Our Declaration Characters
by Danielle Allen

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Our Declaration Characters

The primary character in Our Declaration by Danielle Allen is not a person but a text: The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. The author methodically examines the meaning of each line of the text, employing exegetical and hermeneutical analysis to reach her conclusions about its meaning.

A second main character is the young William and Mary law graduate Thomas Jefferson. Allen examines Jefferson’s intimate relationship with slavery and his desire to insert a harsh condemnation of the slave trade into the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's first job out of college had been to handle land transactions for the wealthy slave-owning Byrd family of Virginia. Jefferson also legally owned slaves like most of his upper-class peers in the agricultural south.

A third character is The Committee of Five. The Second Continental Congress under the presidency of the aristocratic young New Englander John Hancock assigned the task of writing the public statement of political independence from Great Britain to a committee of five members (Robert Livingston, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson). This committee then delegated to Jefferson the responsibility of the preparation of a first draft. The committee then reviewed the document and recommended significant redactions.

Allen refers to this group when she argues that the Declaration of Independence is a group effort.