by Jon Roland, Constitution Society
In another forum a participant took the position that the authoritative version of the Declaration of Independence was not the one signed by the members of the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, but the versions printed and sent to the states, which changes in capitalization and punctuation of some of the words. That is not correct.
The editorial changes from the original signed document to the copies that were transmitted to the states did not change the meaning. The document is its meaning, not the details of language or style, and an accurate translation into another language would be the same document.
As a hypothetical, suppose the printers had changed the meaning in some substantive way. Would their version then have been the authoritative one, even though it was not confirmed by the Continental Congress? Suppose the printer had inserted the word “not” in some of the copies, sent to some but not all of the states, changing the meaning from declaring independence to not declaring independence. Would the states that got the “not” have remained subject to Britain while the others were independent? Nonsense. The authoritative act was the voice vote to declare independence on July 2, not the signed document, which was evidence of the act, not the act itself.Details