The Declaration of Independence takes on several distinct symbolic meanings within the era the book captures. On one level, it represents the extraordinary achievement of the revolutionary generation—an achievement that seemed unlikely or impossible before it happened. The Declaration also symbolizes the intense optimism, hope, and vision of this moment in American history. Members of the revolutionary generation believed that they were overturning the existing world order for the better. If the words of the Declaration sometimes appear melodramatic or flamboyant, this is because they reveal the profound, dramatic vision at the heart of the Revolution. The Declaration is also significant because, unlike the Constitution, it was the work of one man: Thomas Jefferson. Throughout the book, Ellis explores the difficulties inherent within collaboration and the danger that accrues when something as important as the legacy of the Revolution is subject to many different interpretations. This danger is inherent within the symbolic meaning of the Declaration of Independence. While it is a document with one author, it is a statement made on behalf of the revolutionary generation and the American people more broadly. In this sense, the Declaration belongs to everyone. Another important aspect of the Declaration is its inconsistency and hypocrisy. As Ellis explores, the great failure of the revolutionary generation was their inability to take action on slavery. Although these leaders all denounced slavery as evil, they left it as an unresolved issue, and their inaction eventually led to the country falling apart during the Civil War. While the Declaration of Independence is an extraordinary and powerful document, the fact that it asserts rights that did not exist for enslaved people (and women) at the time shows that it is also flawed.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Declaration of Independence appears in Founding Brothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface: The Generation
...of the Revolution, they would have succeeded in stifling it, and the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have been executed for treason. It may have been inevitable that America eventually achieved... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Dinner
Chapter 3: The Silence
Chapter 6: The Friendship
In 1819, a document was printed in the newspapers resembling the Declaration of Independence that was supposedly authored by a group of people in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in... (full context)