Presentation Versus Representation

In hindsight, the historical context from which I analyzed the US Declaration of Independence is quite lacking in comparison to the literary perspective. The most prominent thing that I kept coming back to was the emptiness of the wording used. Phrases such as “one people,” all men are created equal,” and “powers from the consent of the governed.” I see all of these as merely a presentation; they do not truly represent the “one people” of the US. These were written down to provide a sense of unification, equality, and shared power — in reality they are far from that. This entire document is put on as a sort of act to show power in writing rather than in action. While this document was written and published no actions were made to ensure what was said was enforced. This declaration presents representation where there is none to be found.

Going back to the second phrase I quoted, “all men are created equal,” there enslaved West Africans who would have disagreed. Calling upon the erasure poem “Declaration” by Tracy K. Smith, there is a line from this poem that reads “We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. –taked Captive — on the high Seas — to bear–” (Smith). The irony being that this is the exact words of the Declaration the founding fathers wrote. Yet they could not see that they too were the same as they they enslaved. In my opinion, it was an insult to write such a phrase as “all men are created equal” as a presentation to the world how just the US is, while in reality, when it comes time to represent what they wrote, such justice is merely spilled ink.

Smith, Tracy K. “Declaration.” Poetry Foundation, Graywolf Press,


After reading through this twice, I still find Derrida’s, Declaration of Independence, I was still a little confused about some of his topics, but I feel like I got a pretty good grasp of some of his points. In Derrida’s text, he makes two good points about the signers of the Declaration that kind of link together into one bigger idea. This is the idea of representation, who is supposed to be representing who in this document.

In his text, to me, it seems that he has a problem with the concept of who each of the signers of the Declaration are supposed to be representing. It is pretty much common knowledge that each of the signers are supposed to represent the people of the state in which they sign under. But Derrida seems to be digging deeper into the idea that they aren’t necessarily representing the people, and that they are representing themselves and adding the people to their already decided ideas. (pg. 3) Which, if you give it thought, is kind of what happened.

Later on, on that same page in the next paragraph, he brings up the idea and questions whether the people who signed the document were already free or if they were being declared free at the same time as everyone they are representing through this document. This is an interesting idea because I personally have never given it much thought and never paid much attention in history classes to know if this was ever discussed, but it is interesting that he brings this up.

Tying that idea that the representatives were already free back to the idea of representation, adds to the idea that them deciding the contents of the Declaration were written to adhere to the wants and needs of the “representatives” and that they adjusted their ideas to make sure the people would be satisfied and not argue or disagree much with what they already decided.