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Something to Declare

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We hold these truths to be self-evident: All men are created equal, but some can draw a larger crowd than others. So when TV producer Norman Lear launched a campaign to publicize one of this country’s most celebrated documents, the Declaration of Independence, he enlisted the help of some of America’s most famous citizens, including Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Spacey and Mel Gibson. “Star power seems to be pervasive in our culture, whether you’re selling a sneaker or a can of paint,” says Lear, creator of All in the Family and a slew of other sitcoms. “This is selling the very concept of the United States of America.”

Last year Lear and a partner paid $8.14 million in an Internet auction for an original broadside of the Declaration—one of only 25 still in existence, all of which were printed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. On this July 4, the nation’s 225th anniversary, he gathered an all-star cast in that city to perform a dramatic reading of the text before an estimated million onlookers. The event kicked off what Lear calls the Declaration of Independence Road Trip, in which the document will tour the country for at least three years, starting Sept. 14 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Lear hopes the attention will encourage young people to vote. But he’d also be pleased if they learned to share his appreciation of Thomas Jefferson’s way with words. “Anything that can live for these hundreds of years,” Lear says, “has to be pretty good writing.”