Friday, June 15, 2012

Tsesis on "The Life and Times of the Declaration of Independence"

Just out from Oxford University Pres is For Liberty and Equality: The Life and Times of the Declaration of Independence, by Alexander Tsesis, Loyola University-Chicago Law.  Here is OUP’s description of the book:
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most influential documents in modern history-the inspiration for what would become the most powerful democracy in the world. Indeed, at every stage of American history, the Declaration has been a touchstone for evaluating the legitimacy of legal, social, and political practices. Not only have civil rights activists drawn inspiration from its proclamation of inalienable rights, but individuals decrying a wide variety of governmental abuses have turned for support to the document's enumeration of British tyranny.

In this sweeping synthesis of the Declaration's impact on American life, ranging from 1776 to the present, Alexander Tsesis offers a deeply researched narrative that highlights the many surprising ways in which this document has influenced American politics, law, and society. The drafting of the Bill of Rights, the Reconstruction Amendments, the New Deal, the Civil Rights movement-all are heavily indebted to the Declaration's principles of representative government. Tsesis demonstrates that from the founding on, the Declaration has played a central role in American political and social advocacy, congressional debates, and presidential decisions. He focuses on how successive generations internalized, adapted, and interpreted its meaning, but he also shines a light on the many American failures to live up to the ideals enshrined in the document.

Based on extensive research from primary sources such as newspapers, diaries, letters, transcripts of speeches, and congressional records, For Liberty and Equality shows how our founding document shaped America through successive eras, and why its influence has always been crucial to the nation and our way of life.
Here are some blurbs:

"No document is as cherished, or misused, by Americans as the Declaration of Independence. For Liberty and Equality is a remarkably perceptive history of the Declaration, elegantly written and carefully argued, by one of our brightest and most original legal scholars. There is no better book on this subject in print today." --David Oshinsky, Jack S. Blanton Chair in History, University of Texas; Distinguished Scholar in Residence, New York University; and Winner, Pulitzer Prize for History, 2006

"Alexander Tsesis has written a remarkable love letter on the Declaration of Independence. That is, like Abraham Lincoln, he views the Declaration's proclamation of equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the essence of America and, like Lincoln, he exhibits real anguish at the betrayal of this promise by toleration of systematic inequalities (the most notable, of course, being slavery). Although a marvelous overview of American history from 1776 onward--and the use made by political reformers of the Declaration's basic norms--it is also a call to his readers today to take seriously the demands that the Declaration places on anyone who would seek to make the United States a truly 'more perfect Union.'"--Sanford Levinson, author of Framed: America's 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance