Though it’s the date we celebrate each 4th of July, it is the direction that the signing of our Declaration pointed us in that needs to be acknowledged each year and fulfilling the aspirations that great but less than perfect men had designs for which remains a work in progress still today.
I’m particularly fond of the 4th of July holiday because it is one of the major holidays whose significance is not associated with the church. That institution, while giving us some of the better virtues we admire, none-the-less gave us the Crusades and the Inquisition while also spawning such infamous social responses to perceived evil like the Salem Witch Hunts and the rise of the KKK to stymie and prevent efforts at racial integration. But Independence Day is tainted with its dark side too.
Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and all the men who affixed their names to that document declared in it the high principles about how “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”. Yet all of the signatories were white males and most of them owned slaves. Those who didn’t were of the common opinion of that time that blacks were inferior to the white race and that women were unqualified to serve in politics. The woman’s domain was the home and their role was to be in obeisance to their husbands. Equality was not intended to reach these populations back in our infancy as a nation.
This aspect of our history was omitted in history books as I grew up and I’m sure the Texas Board of Education will ensure that this continues today for many school children. But I don’t raise this issue to put a downer on everyone’s celebratory mood by pointing out that the people who put the concepts of freedom out there for the world to emulate and fight for were far from perfect. On the contrary. The fact that they were, and still had such high ideas, shows that they were perceptive enough at least to open the door to a view of liberty that most sovereign national leaders were unwilling to submit to their subjects at the time.
There’s a sense among those who identify with the Tea Party today that somehow we have lost who we were after gaining our independence from the English royalty and feel an urgent need to regain it. From what I can tell, they seem to be oblivious of the fact that only wealthy, white male property owners were the primary benefactors of what they wrought after deposing British rule and the freedoms that were eventually gained for the working class, blacks and women had to be dragged out of this elite group over the next 200 years through battles in American courts, streets and the battlegrounds of the Civil War.
The “take America back” crowd seems more inclined to “give America back” to the corporate wealth that dominated American culture during the Gilded Age of the 19th century. The rich are seen by those who hold libertarian views as exceptional and should be allowed to promote business, unfettered from government oversight. Justice for their transgressions should be viewed differently or even set aside so they cannot be inhibited from encouraging wealth and economic growth. The poor and middle income working class on the other hand are expected to deal with the negative impacts of corporate malfeasance that causes them to lose their jobs, homes and retirement savings. Industrial pollution to air and water supplies is allowed at what are deemed “tolerable” levels as long as jobs don’t suffer, while health care costs for lung diseases and cancers resulting from such contamination continue to escalate and corporate profits take more out of each premium dollar we pay for insurance.
There really isn’t all that much we need celebrate about the 4th of July, 1776 other than our predecessors took that first step to insure the quality of life they addressed in the Declaration. What’s more important to celebrate on this special day is the gains we have made since then over the last 236 years to ensure that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has been achieved by a wider variety of people than originally conceived and that we still have inroads to make with other disenfranchised groups, especially gays and Muslims.
Contrary to the views of the Tea Party supporters and those Supreme Court justices that adhere to a specious interpretation of our Constitution known as “original intent”, there is sufficient evidence that many of those imperfect men who laid out the original outline that our laws were founded on understood that human social dynamics would change conditions and some adaptations to the Constitution would be necessary. To subjugate the visionaries of early America to a level that holds back progress and change by insisting that unless they declared it as such in their time, future generations had no right to adapt the law to their needs going forward. Men like Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton would be insulted today I suspect.
Today we no longer have to worry about other nations threatening our freedom for we have become the most formidable power on earth. Yet there are those who would threaten what the founding fathers envisioned and reduce the republican form of government they crafted in Philadelphia back in 1787 to that of a plutocracy. The power of corporations has grown to a level today that people like Jefferson, Adams and Lincoln feared would destroy this great experiment in justice and liberty.
On the surface we are made to feel that we’re still the captains of our own fate but underneath is a system by which the rules of the game favor the wealthiest amongst us and not in a fashion that encourages all people to aspire to. Freedom today is more about consumer choices that marketing experts have influenced. Real freedom to participate in the competition of markets is cut off to millions who have not inherited wealth or power to afford the education or health care needed to be productive in society.
Can “free markets” really be free when it’s the accepted view that “too many chefs spoil the broth”? There’s not enough room in the kitchen for everyone. There have to be worker bees to make the goods and services available to the public but over time their livable wages must be reduced to a sustenance level in order to make cheaper goods available to more people while profits remain stable or rise for the “chefs” in the kitchen.
Those who find themselves unable to break through the social and economic barriers that exist by virtue of predominant social and financial forces constantly fear freedom is becoming more elusive to them. That factor becomes evident in the view held by some Americans who pine about an America that not only no longer exists, but should never exist again. The one where only the elite gentry had the advantages over everyone else and excludes you today if you tend to fit any other image that doesn’t put laissez-faire self interests above all else.
So celebrate this national holiday in the spirit it was intended but do so in light of the fact that freedom is not and never will be a given. Understand that there are those who disguise themselves as patriots but who really only want a world where only their values have sway over everyone else and who want to acquire vast sums of wealth with little regard for how it affects the community of man they are a part of.