American Culture Night
Thursday, June 9th
St. Michael's Church
Join us for a night of American History and Culture with speaker Salve Regina University History Prof Robert Leeman.
Declaration of Independence: once ignored, but now nearly sacred
How Abraham Lincoln elevated the Declaration of Independence into what we think of it today will be the subject of the Bosworth Lecture Series in conjunction with the Fourth of July Committee on Thursday, June 9 at 7:00PM at St Michael’s Church (377 Hope St) in Bristol. The event is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted.
Assoc Prof of History at Salve Regina University, Dr William Leeman will speak on “A Blueprint for Revolution: The Evolution of the Declaration of Independence from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln.”
“The Declaration of Independence has an almost ‘sacred’ status in the United States today as the definitive statement of American political ideals,” Prof Leeman said. “ The document is so revered that it is enclosed in a bulletproof case at the National Archives and lowered each night into a reinforced concrete and steel vault said to withstand a nuclear blast.
“Yet, the Declaration did not always enjoy this exalted status,” he added. “Thomas Jefferson wrote it simply as an announcement and justification of the American colonies’ independence from Great Britain, and Americans gave it little attention after its publication in 1776. The American people often ignored the document after the Revolution.”
“However, there was a pivot during the Civil War and a transformation in how Americans viewed the Declaration,” he said. “Most notably in the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln elevated the document into how we think of it today: a set of timeless political principles meant to define the United States as a nation based on liberty and equality.”
From that point on, Prof Leeman said the focus has been on the unalienable rights given all humans, including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as well as the phrase “all men are created equal.” While Lincoln took a great interest in the goals of the founding fathers, he looked to bring the Revolution and his time together. It was the Civil War and his Gettysburg Address that spurred the transformation or “pivot point” in how we think of the Declaration.
In his introduction, Prof Leeman will also provide a brief recap of the episode in May of 1778 when St Michael’s Church was burned by the British when they mistakenly suspected the church was storing munitions in its basement.
William P. Leeman is an associate professor of history, director of the Pell Honors Program, and a faculty fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. After earning his B.A. degree from Providence College and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Boston University, he taught American history at the United States Military Academy at West Point from 2009-2011.
He is the author of The Long Road to Annapolis: The Founding of the Naval Academy and the Emerging American Republic (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) and the co-editor, with John B. Hattendorf, of Forging the Trident: Theodore Roosevelt and the United States Navy (Naval Institute Press, 2020).
The Roswell S. Bosworth, Jr. Lecture Series is presented by the Men’s Club, a Bristol organization that pays tribute to its founding member and former editor/publisher of the East Bay Newspapers with lectures of general interest.