According to the National Archives, the Continental Congress actually voted for independence not on July 4th, but on July 2nd. I bring you a post on the Declaration of Independence today, July 6th, because of a game-changing typo that was first published on this day in 1776.
If you’re like me, you might think, “A typo in the Declaration of Independence? Wait, it wasn’t even typed!”*
Though the original Declaration is a model of fancy cursive, a typed version was prepared soon after and printed in newspapers, and that’s where the problem started.
Here’s a short video from educator Danielle Allen that outlines how a typo has the potential to change the way we look at our role in civic society, and in the way American government works.
I found all this quite interesting, and not only because as a writer and editor I’m aware of the power of language and language mistakes. I’m interested in the way that relationships between ideas are influenced and held together by relationships in the language tasked with conveying them.
In any event, here’s the section of the video that I came back to a second time:
“The sentence about self-evident truths is about the relationship between our individual rights and what we do together as a community, building political institutions to secure our rights. When you lose that second part, you’re actually losing sight of what the democratic project is fundamentally about.”
In the present political climate, I find it easy to be discouraged about the democratic project. It feels like there are powerful people prioritizing their own interests over the interests of our communities, and because of that, important institutions and ideals are suffering.
But I’m heartened to remember that this project has been going on for a long time, that there have been ups and downs, and that we’ve weathered many significant challenges. It’s critical that we not lose hope.
Here’s another important line from Danielle Allen in the video:
“If you want to be an effective civic agent, you need to understand all the levers of change.”
She identifies political institutions as one of the most importance of those levers of change, and I don’t doubt that she’s right. I think we can get some important things done if we are willing to get more educated and more involved.
For the short term, though, I want to focus on the lever of change that is most accessible to us,† and that is the lever we find in the voting booth. I don’t know how many people in this country still cast their votes by actually pulling the levers of a voting machine—probably not many. But however we do vote physically, it’s the lever that is closest to hand for the most people, so it’s a valuable place to start.
Though the US presidential election isn’t until November 2020, there will be other opportunities to vote between now and then. Are you registered? See Register now, fulminate later for info on how to get it done.
*Another recent article alleges that elementary school children are no longer taught cursive writing as part of a conspiracy to keep them from reading the US Constitution. I think there might be some other reasons for cursive’s demise.
[Images: monticello.org, flickr.com, freepik.com]