The Monticello Classroom (mp3)
Length: 10 min.
Reader: Bill Barker
The document: Happy Independence Day! Even though I've read it before, it's always interesting on the Fourth of July to go back and actually read the document we're celebrating.
The Declaration of Independence is an eloquent piece of writing because it had to be. The signers knew they weren't just protesting bad governance, they were committing treason, which, even in the waning days of the belief in the Divine Right of kings, was considered a sin and a capital crime. Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues crafted an argument that clearly lays out the reasons for dissolving the ties with the British Empire while sounding reluctant to do so. In making the statement of national independence so audacious yet well-reasoned, they ensured that the Colonies would not only gain important allies, but also sustain their motivation for the years of war.
The reader: According to the source of this recording, Bill Barker is an actor who portrays Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg, an ongoing history re-enactment in a historic town. As such, he reads with a Southern accent that is charming and genteel. The Declaration is full of eighteenth century turns of phrase that sound awkward to modern ears, but Barker brings the words alive and gives them the forcefulness they must have had when first written 235 years ago.