Between the States and the Signers: The Politics of the Declaration of Independence Before the Civil War
32 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2016
Date Written: March 29, 2016
It is almost impossible to conjure the thought of the Declaration of Independence today without also raising the specters of the signers. Commonplace invocations of “John Hancock” stand in for the prototypical signature, and elementary school children throughout the country learn details about the lives of the signers. The signers did not, however, authorize the Declaration solely for themselves, but rather on behalf of the “People.”
At the same time as autograph collectors began accumulating the signatures of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in the early nineteenth century, the political contest over the “People” of the United States drew the Declaration into its arguments. Controversy focused, in particular, on whether this people could be considered united from the Declaration onwards or consisted in the people of the several states. Drawing on two periods when discussions of the Declaration came to the fore, this Symposium Article contends that the figure of the signers — and their signatures — became a crucial weapon in a battle over which people had authorized not only the Declaration but also the U.S. Constitution.
Keywords: Declaration of Independence, autograph collection, signers, the People, Gibbons v. Ogden, the Bank of the United States
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