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Controversy Erupts Over Punctuation in Declaration of Independence

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(Thomas Jefferson reënactor Steve Edenbo chats with visitors at the National Constitution Center, on Independence Mall.  Photo by Steve Tawa)

(Thomas Jefferson reënactor Steve Edenbo chats with visitors at the National Constitution Center, on Independence Mall. Photo by Steve Tawa)

Steve Tawa Steve Tawa
Steve Tawa joined KYW Newsradio in 1990, and splits his time between...
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By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As timing would have it, the New York Times reports that a scholar is now suggesting, 238 years later, that the official transcript of the Declaration of Independence, with all those famous signatures, contains an error.

In the midst of celebrations in Philadelphia, we caught up with “Thomas Jefferson” (Steve Edenbo, in full character) at the National Constitution Center.

“I’m sure that my friends at the National Archives are going to examine this question,” he said, referring to the Declaration’s controversial punctuation.   “Their sole purpose is to seek truth in the maintenance of their records.”

The error, according to Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, concerns a period that appears in the official transcript right after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

There is no corresponding period, she says, on the faded parchment originals.  The transcript copy is the one that was prepared for the signatures of the adopters.

Our Thomas Jefferson, apparently speaking from firsthand knowledge, said it’s neither a period nor a blotch of ink on the transcript version.

“It’s a comma.”

Why a comma?

“The argument is cumulative,” he replied.  “Our rights do not end with those three rights, but they grow from them.”

Edenbo has portrayed Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, Washington, and elsewhere since 1999.

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