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happy birthday to us

July 4, 2009

so today is the 4th of July, independence day. the day of the signing of the declaration of independence, and the day we credit as the birth of our nation* (although Congress actually declared independence on July 2, they formally adopted the document on the 4th). so let’s take a look at this founding document, shall we?

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

the copyeditor in me wants to ruthlessly update the grammar in this document. comma usage has certainly changed a lot in the past 200 years.

the historian in me, however, is still moved by the words laid out here. most people understand that our founding fathers, venerated as they are, were still human, still fallible. the same men who wrote that “all men are created equal” sanctioned slavery (many of them owned slaves, including the Declaration’s main author, Jefferson). certainly they didn’t believe in direct popular democracy: not until 1913 did all states even elect senators by popular vote rather than legislative selection, and the electoral college is with us still. it has become cliche to point out that the Declaration would be more accurate if it was phrased as “all wealthy white men are created equal.”

but just because our founding fathers were not the heros our school teachers once told us, just because they failed to live up to their own rhetoric, as we have also sometimes failed, does not mean that we should stop trying. as founding documents go, this one is pretty good. as people and as a country, we should take a moment on this day to really think about that most famous line of the Declaration: “all men are created equal.” we should consider the ways in which men and women of various backgrounds, classes, and ethnicities have not been equal throughout this country’s history, and the ways in which they are still not equal today. we should acknowledge that our past is imperfect, and that our future will be as well, but that we should strive for something better than what we’ve had. we should strive to live up to the promises of our founding fathers. in the words of that other great document, the Constitution, we should strive for “a more perfect union”; we should strive to be more perfect people. not perfect, as that’s impossible, but closer to it. 

it’s entirely possible that in this, at least, if not much else, i am an eternal optimist. certainly i’ll be accused of that by at least one of my friends (i’m looking at you, whim). but for just one day, i don’t mind finding something good in history rather than just seeing all the shit. 

and now, some lighter fare:

*whoa, d.w. griffiths reference totally unintentional there.

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2 comments

  1. i keep reading “fondling” fathers and that really destroys my concentration. will re-visit later today, with more respectful mindset


  2. […] and the like « i have thoughts theodore rex December 23, 2009 i’ve briefly touched before on my ideas of imperfect heros and striving towards something better. well, this morning i was […]



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