A Declaration for the United States of America

Archival ink on paper

A Declaration for the United States of America – Artist Essay

The genesis for this project was the personal discovery of the “Jefferson Bible,” a volume created by Thomas Jefferson for his private religious practice. Paradoxically, in tandem to and in defiance of his frequent criticism as an atheist, Jefferson, the primary initiator of the separation of Church and State, and a product of and contributor to the age of the Enlightenment, believed in a secular interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ which omitted any mention of the fantastical and divine. Furthermore, Jefferson believed religion to be intensely personal, a practice intended for individual reflection away from established institutions and even close family members and friends. To this end, he constructed his own version of the Bible, entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which focused on the teachings of Christ from a deistic position. In other words, Jefferson enacted his own perspective on biblical text, literally cutting and pasting passages to fit within the world as he saw it.

This claiming of a sacred text, and its subsequent conversion to a living document, flies in the face of contemporary Constitutionalism, a devotion to founding texts that rivals Evangelical Fundamentalism in the 21st century. This action, exacted by the most important and significant Founding Father in the creation of American values and identity, serves to dismantle any argument for the indelibility of such a document as the Declaration of Independence in its specificity. As a product of Jefferson’s own hand and mind, he would surely recognize that the ephemerality of language and evolution of society would dictate that such texts be refreshed over time, and that the preciousness of true American identity must be finessed to include those for whom the document had previously excluded.

With this spirit of Jefferson’s own endeavor in mind, I seek now to claim the inheritance of the Declaration of Independence for my own, and, in viewing this document as a malleable text, I aim to situate it within the social and political context of 2018 America. In doing so, I offer not a revolutionary document for the direct purpose of inciting insurrection, but rather a gesture to cast off the sinews of privileged sanctity for the possibility of present and future Americans to claim a history, previously elusive, for themselves.