[PAST EVENT] "The ‘Course of Human Events’: History in the US Declaration of Independence”
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“The ‘Course of human events’: History in the US Declaration of Independence”
Throughout the history of the United States, reformers have deployed the Declaration’s statements about universal equality and liberty in struggles for the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow, voting rights for all men, equal rights for women, and many other causes. As a consequence, we tend today to think of the Declaration as forward-looking, even as a repudiation of the past. Yet, for those who wrote it and for their contemporaries, it was in fact deeply historical in its argument and structure. This talk explores that forgotten history in the United States’ founding document, beginning with its account of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” established at Creation and the origins of government that are described in the document’s famous preamble. The talk also explores the Declaration’s American history, with its account of “the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here,” the “political bands” that connected America and Britain, through its “history of the present King of Great Britain”—its account of the Revolution. Having explored the Declaration’s “Course of human events” from Creation to Independence, the talk will conclude with a few words about the implications of that history for the early United States.
Founded in 1943, the Omohundro Institute is an independent research organization sponsored by W&M and Colonial Williamsburg. We support the scholars and scholarship of vast early America—a term we use to describe the capacious histories of North America and related geographies from the 1450s to the 1820s.
Steven Sarson was born and grew up in England but developed an interest in American history from a young age. He studied the subject in his undergraduate degree at the University of East Anglia before doing a PhD with Jack P. Greene and Ronald G. Walters at Johns Hopkins University, which he completed in 1998. He has since published the thesis as numerous articles (including in the Omohundro Institute’s William and Mary Quarterly), and as a book entitled The Tobacco Plantation South and the Early American Atlantic World. He has also published a book on British America, 1500-1800: Creating Colonies, Imagining an Empire, and edited an eight-volume collection of documents, with Jack Greene, entitled The British Empire and the American Colonies. His most recent book, from 2018, was called Barack Obama: American Historian, and his next one, to be published by University of Virginia Press in 2025, will be called “When in the Course of human events”: History and Historical Consciousness in the US Declaration of Independence. He taught from 1992 at Swansea University in Wales, but since 2014 has been Professor of American Civilization at Jean Moulin University in Lyon, France.