Politics & Polls #25: What Does the Declaration of Independence Really Tell Us Today?

Dec 22 2016
By Julian Zelizer & Sam Wang (Produced by B. Rose Kelly and edited by Bonelys Rosado)
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Should the government play a major or minor role in the lives of American citizens? This core question resurfaces during each election and continues to divide the political parties. It turns out that this argument is not new.

In his newest book, Yale historian Steve Pincus challenges those who argue that the Declaration of Independence should be used for political guidance today, saying it’s in favor of limited government. Pincus shows that the Declaration of Independence actually gives the government more power, primarily to promote and protect citizens’ welfare.

What was the original intent of the founding fathers? And is the document still applicable today? In episode #25, professors Julian Zelizer and Sam Wang interview Pincus, who examines these issues in his new book: “Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government."

Pincus, Bradford Durfee Professor of History at Yale University, studies Atlantic history, the history of Britain, the British empire, global history and early American history. He also is the author of “Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy, 1650-1668,” “England’s Glorious Revolution 1688-89” and “1688: The First Modern Revolution.”


Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 
Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He has been one of the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the author of several books including, most recently, "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society." Zelizer is a frequent commentator in the international and national media on political history and contemporary politics. He has published more than 600 hundred op-eds, including his weekly column on CNN.com

Wang is professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He is known for his books "Welcome to Your Brain" and "Welcome to Your Child's Brain" and for his founding role at the Princeton Election Consortium, a blog providing U.S. election analyses. In 2004, Wang was one of the first to aggregate U.S. presidential polls using probabilistic methods. In 2012, his statistical analysis correctly predicted the presidential vote outcome in 49 of 50 states. He has also developed new statistical standards for partisan gerrymandering. A neuroscientist, Wang's academic research focuses on the neuroscience of learning, the cerebellum and autism.