The R M Jones Lecture
1320, 1776 And all That: The Declaration of Arbroath, The Declaration of Independence and the Fate of Documents
Speaker: Professor David Armitage, Harvard University
Chair: Professor Richard English, Queen's University Belfast
Founding documents are parsed, revered and preserved but they can also be misread, mythologised and overlooked. This lecture examines the entangled fates of two such documents, the Scots “Declaration of Arbroath” (1320) and the US Declaration of Independence (1776), at a moment between the 700th anniversary of one and the 250th anniversary of the other. It shows that the two “declarations” were both diplomatic texts, rhetorically shaped, and part of sequences of similar documents that have been largely forgotten. Some recent commentators have suggested that Arbroath influenced the US Declaration; on the contrary, I argue that the Declaration influenced Arbroath, at least in its reception and its construction as an alleged charter of Scottish independence. I conclude by presenting fresh evidence for the presence of Arbroath in Philadelphia in 1776, to reflect on the sometimes surprising ways in which documents become, or do not become, foundational.
The lecture took place on 18 May 2022 from 1600 - 1730.