For many Americans, the first few lines of the Declaration of Independence are deeply familiar — particularly the opening of the second paragraph:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,...
But a controversy is brewing over the interpretation of that section, thanks to an extra period that may have not appeared in Thomas Jefferson's original. The New York Times reports on the crusade of Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, notes that many versions of the Declaration created around 1776 don't contain a period after "Happiness," which she suggests has a radical impact on the proposed role of government in preserving the human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The document maintained by the National Archives, however, has the period added — possibly thanks to a copperplate of the Declaration that was produced in the early 1800s and may have been working off of an original that was already heavily faded.
After a recent meeting between Allen and the National Archives, there is new momentum behind changing the official transcript to remove the period — but in the meantime, the nuance of Jefferson's transformative words is left to interpretation.