Declaration of Independence, democracy, equality, Fourth of July, freedom, Independence Day, Library of Congress, Lincoln, slavery
The tides were shifting in the founding era that brought forth our nation in the Revolutionary Year of 1776.
On New Year’s Day, after a speech by King George III is read condemning the colonist’s rebellion, General Washington unfurls the new red-and-white striped Grand Union flag on Prospect Hill overlooking Boston Harbor. On January 9th, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” is published. The machines of popular persuasion were revving up-the enterprise had begun.
As the American colonists contemplated severing their political ties with Mother England, a new vision of a people self-determining their own form of government was taking shape. Ameliorating the causes of oppression, tyranny and calamity opened the door to the American experiment.
The principles for separation were laid out in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Recently, new imaging technology employed by the Library of Congress has revealed in an early draft of the Declaration, Jefferson changed the word “subjects”, as in Imperial subjects, to “citizens”. It may have been a slip of the pen, but even so, it clearly shows the status quo was not so easily left behind.
Library of Congress preservation director Dianne van der Reyden said during the announcement of the discovery,
“It’s almost like we can see him write ‘subjects’ and then quickly decide that’s not what he wanted to say at all, that he didn’t even want a record of it… really, it sends chills down the spine.”
The Founders and Framers vision of a different reality required a transcendent resolve to become so, as this new conception of freedom required a falling away and letting go of obsolete memes; ways of thinking no longer in tune with the evolution of human civilization.
On Fourth of July, we celebrate the origins of America, and revere the champions of Liberty that fought to create a nation of equals setting in motion a continuing, evolving process based upon the immutable ideals of freedom, equality and dignity for all; Spiritually sound principles of governance. This struggle was not solely played out on a field of war, it was fought on a field of ideas and first in the minds of women and men who led the way.
Six years ago, while in the Holy Land, I imagined the stormy tempest our beloved Abraham Lincoln, American messiah, was forced to weather to fulfill his destiny.
This Fourth of July, 2004 here in the Jordan Valley makes me think about the kind of patriotism as expressed by our fore-fathers. What was at the core of their motivations? What empowers a leader to stay the course even in the midst of a crowd of naysayers? This has to be a patriotism not about waving flags of a nation state, but rather a fervor for the love of humanity with an unshakable resolve. Driven by higher standards of understanding, not the next quarterly business report or electoral cycle. Great thinkers and statesmen like Jefferson, Adams, Washington… Lincoln.
Oval Room. White House. “Mr. President, have you considered letting a few of the states, say four or five, continue their program of indentured servitude, and placate this upcoming rift – save your Presidency – let’s get to making the country prosperous again.”
“You mean slavery, don’t you?” Abe said.
“Well, you use such a harsh word, I’m sure that through some governmental initiative, we could give the blackies some taste of real citizenry.”
Abe stared at him, unemotionally. The politician started to get uneasy with the silence, and attempted another tactic. “Your wife has relatives in the South, Mr. President, do you really want to continue to wage this war with states that have taken a Constitutionally justifiable position? Save your Presidency, the South has already mobilized thousands of men in Virginia, it’s going to be a blood bath.” He paused. The tall gaunt Lincoln resembled a tree, not moving, not betraying any reaction. The man looked around, and then continued.
“Maybe the Carolinas, Virginia – If you insist on hammering through the position of the Abolitionists, who knows what that will do to the economy of our whole country? It will be destroyed. And who knows, with a weakened state like that, a European alliance could reclaim the Americas, no, no it’s too risky. Save your Presidency, Abraham. Please think about what you’re doing.”
“Look sir, I don’t know what kind of politics are usually practiced around these parts of the Eastern coast, but back where I come from politicians that waver like the flavor of the day get run out of town – I have not come this far, educated by my dear Bible – the Word of God, to come to some cockamamie solution that says half slavery is alright – that half-citizenry is alright. I know if I let this secession occur, it will be the end of us as a great nation. It will be the end of the American dream. And over my dead body will we end what so many of our forefathers sacrificed their lives for – and the future, no doubt, holds as many sacrifices.
The red on that flag means something to me sir, and if I were you I would cut yourself to see if your blood is red, because the men who have died to give prosperity to this country were true red-blooded Americans. I fear the day when the men of this country will no longer understand that concept. I fear that the prosperity we engender, could be the lap of luxurious complacency that will be our downfall. If this secession is successful, we will fall into the pit of nation warring despair that the European continent has wallowed in for oh so many centuries. No, I do not intend any half measure with the sanctity of this God given freedom. I know I am here to finish Jefferson’s work that was so erroneously compromised out of our Great Declaration. I know I am here not to break the Constitution, but rather defend the hopes, wishes, and dreams of our forefathers. I will enact emergency powers legislation to preserve this Union under God, to preserve Humanity’s last hope for survival. We The People. If this Great War rips this country to shreds, in shreds it will still stand as One. It will stand tall, shredded and great. You are excused, sir.”
With that Abraham Lincoln walked out of the Oval office, and thanked God for the angel of distraction that made him to be so resolute to carry out his purpose. To save the last hope of humanity, The Government of the people and by the people. All people. E pluribus unum, you see?
It’s an evolved extension of Lincoln’s and Jefferson’s work that views humanity as one tribe, as one people.
In an earlier column on James Cameron’s Avatar,
“As professed in a classic 60’s Star Trek episode, the values set forth in America’s founding documents must apply to all — or they mean nothing. Of course it would be unwise and currently impossible to extend the reach of Constitutional protections to all humanity, but purposefully participating and benefiting from the subjugation and exploitation of other peoples is anathema to any conception of moral consistency.”
On this Fourth of July, remember the unsettling nature of progress as it seeks to overturn ideas that no longer serve. 1776 was unsettling, as was our Civil War. Be open to the fact that a new way to look at things may seem alarming at first, but in the big picture, that’s a good thing. Unnerving concepts like freeing a nation
or freeing slaves were, in the end, the right thing to do. In the near future, we may be faced with new ideas that seem just as threatening as those were to some in years past. Keep in mind that it’s far easier to like what you know, than to know what you like.
Happy Fourth of July, America.