United States Declaration of Independence (enhanced photo)
We don’t often think of the Declaration of Independence in a global perspective—but maybe we should, according to historian Richard Bell. When first published on July 5, 1776, it was printed by an immigrant Irishman on Dutch paper that had been brought over from England. Its task was to announce to the world that 13 previously separate colonies had formed a new political union that was now desperately in need of a powerful foreign ally.
This single-sheet broadside was not the first declaration of independence ever issued, and its ideas and forms reflect many influences, both American and European. But its resonance was unparalleled. The Declaration of Independence traveled far and wide and quickly became an example and inspiration to revolutionaries across the continent, the ocean, and the globe. More than 100 other declarations of independence have been issued in other parts of the world since 1776, a stark reminder that our American Revolution—a change in political sovereignty in a few out-of-the-way agricultural colonies on the western rim of the Atlantic Ocean—occupies pride of place in the larger history of global decolonization and post-colonialism.
Bell, an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park, reconstructs the fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence, covering its origins, purpose, impact, and its extraordinary global legacy.