Historian Maier shows us the Declaration as both the defining statement of our national identity and the moral standard by which we live as a nation. It is truly "American Scripture," and Maier tells us how it came to be. She describes the transformation of the Second Continental Congress into a national government, unlike anything that preceded or followed it. She lets us hear the voice of the people as revealed in other "declarations" of 1776. Detective-like, she discloses the origins of key ideas and phrases in the Declaration and unravels the complex story of its drafting and of the group-editing job which angered Thomas Jefferson. She also reveals what happened after the signing and celebration: how it was largely forgotten and then revived to buttress political arguments of the nineteenth century; and how Abraham Lincoln ensured its persistence as a living force in American society.--From publisher description.
The second chapter is about the "other" declarations—those documents developed by the colonies showing support for independence and how George III had wronged them. The basic information was fine; it's just that Ms. Maier would offer multiple, repetitive examples to the point of beating a dead horse.
I got through that second chapter and into Jefferson's iterations about the Declaration's development, but at that point, lost interest with her very academic style.
Most interesting to me: much of the stirring prose in the Declaration had already been written in various forms by Jefferson and others in the multitude of documents approved locally throughout the colonies, expressing the colonials' increasing frustration with the failure of their efforts to negotiate a suitable accommodation with the King and his ministers and Parliament. There was persistent strong support throughout the colonies for remaining within the empire as long as American self-government could be sustained.
Finally, there is Maier's take on the Declaration as a late blooming "American Scripture." This is her description of the 19th century politicians' cumulative (and heedlessly incorrect) re-interpretation of the Declaration as a statement of governing principles and a blueprint for American political values and American democracy. Maier has made a plain case that the Declaration was intended only to demonstrate why the actions and disdain of King George had made American rebellion necessary and unavoidable.
My note for the serious reader: for my taste, Chapter 4 incongruously seems to stray into anecdotal commentary on various interpretations by Abraham Lincoln and others. I understand the imputed relevance, but this section of American Scripture seemed to be casually written and insufficiently edited.