It's being hailed as "the battle of the period." Is a small spec of ink that appears on the Declaration of Independence a period or not? In a draft paper that one historian calls "a remarkably convincing piece of detective work," Danielle Allen argues that the period found after "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" on the National Archives and Records Administration's official transcript doesn't appear on the original (which is now faded nearly to the point of illegibility)—or most other copies—and indicates that the list of self-evident truths ends there. That's a "serious misunderstanding," Allen tells the New York Times.
"That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" follows the supposed period, leading most Americans to see the essential role of governments in protecting those rights as subordinate—which is not what Thomas Jefferson intended, Allen says. She began her research two years ago, and has a slew of examples in which the period does not appear: in Jefferson's draft, in a broadside Congress ordered on July 4, or in Congress' official records, among others; that said, it does appear in other printings, including the 1823 copperplate that the National Archives has relied on. Writes Allen in her paper, "All the historical and textual evidence points in the direction [that it was] a comma." A rep for the National Archives says it is now considering changes to the Declaration's online presentation based on Allen's research. (Read more Declaration of Independence stories.)