Do Try to Enjoy the Fourth

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. However, the official signing ceremony, when John Hancock famously stepped forward and signed with a flourish, didn’t happen until August 2.

Today the Right has turned the Declaration into evidence that the Founders intended the United States to be a “Christian Nation.” The recent atrocity in Louisiana that mandates displaying the Ten Commandments in all classrooms also encourages schools to display the Mayflower Compact, the Northwest Ordinance, and the Declaration of Independence. The Mayflower Compact is fairly dripping with Puritan piety, of course. the Northwest Ordinance contains a passage about how religion is necessary for morals or some such thing. And the Declaration mentions God three times.

But the Declaration was composed by Thomas Jefferson, the most out-of-the-cloest Deist of all the Founders. Jefferson is also famously associated with the metaphorical wall between church and state and made it plain in his writings that other people’s religious beliefs were not his concern. “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god,” he wrote. “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Here is more on why the Declaration doesn’t have anything to do with a “Christian nation.”

On this day, when our little experiment in representative-self-government and democracy is toppling on the brink, let’s try to keep in mind what we still have, and what we have to lose if we fail.

17 thoughts on “Do Try to Enjoy the Fourth

  1. Most people never learn to read the Declaration of Independence in context. In the 1770's, the colonies were being squeezed for profit by the "multinational corporations" of the day, not just in the Americas but throughout the British Empire. The independence movement was more than offset by a Royalist movement. The Royalists, if not loyal to King George, were aware that whatever sweet deal they had going in the colonies could be taken away by the stroke of a pen in London. Property and holdings could be taken away by the King. Judges could have their rulings reversed. Political leaders could be removed.

    One of the major suppliers of slaves to the South was the Church of England. The obligation of "the people" to follow the direction of the King had a religious component – you could go to hell for opposing the King because the Royal Family is appointed by God. The Church of England said so. Indirectly, the whole swindle of royalty in Europe was based on a church favored by the government declaring that the royal family of that country had been selected by God. Saying out loud what a crock of you-know-what that would earn you eternal damnation – and in some places, heresy was a capital crime. 

    Jefferson tiptoed around the issue, not confronting the con directly. He suggested that just government can only be justified by the consent of the governed. By implication, if the majority felt they were oppressed, the system is/was illegitimate in the eyes of "Nature's God."  

    "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…"

    "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."

    Jefferson didn't make a religious appeal but he proposed a new ethic which provided the foundation for self-government. That ethic contradicted no religion but claimed a higher authority than any doctrine of any religion. These words resound as justification for opposing the tyranny of a king – "CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED." If enough of us will not bow to abuses of authority, the exertion of abusive power is not legitimate and the government must yield to the majority of they will not be subdued. The truth of this is evident in the fact that the US was granted independence, not by military prowess but by refusing to surrender.

    We did not win the War of Independence – we refused to lose. We inflicted huge losses on the corporate state of England with an armada of US pirates, authorized by the Continental Congress, financed by individuals, who scoured the entire Caribbean – not just the Eastern Seaboard – for merchant ships flying the British flag. Those ships were taken, pillaged for as much loot as the privateers could steal, and sunk. The British Navy could not protect them all – the privateers would not engage a ship with a military escort. Any un-escorted ship was fair game. 

    Either the entire British Navy had to be sent on babysitting duty for the East India Tea Company, OR the King of the US colonies taken. (We had no king and no centralized government. There was no person or place to "take" that would end the war.) OR British merchant interests had to abandon the Northern and Central Americas completely. 

    IMO, King George was personally offended by the revolt of the colonists. He'd have caught and hanged them all but King George needed the support of the aristocracy, the Church of England and merchant interests like the East India Tea Company. They weren't interested in King George's vendetta – they wanted business as usual ASAP.  THAT'S what ended the war. 

    I'm not denigrating the accomplishments of General Washington. But if powerful commercial interests weren't being clobbered, King George would not have relented. (My version of history) It was and still is all about the money. Religion is and was a schill game, lending cred to raw political power and financial exploitation. Jefferson was brilliant in creating a super-schill – declaring that the consent of the governed was a greater authority than the endorsement of royalty by the state religion.

    And the Revolutionary War proved that a decentralized idea with no cult leader (or political figurehead) and no capital (with a flag to conquer or capture) is unbeatable if they persevere.

  2. Our current Right is hardly “patriotic”, or “Christian”, or “We The People” or anything else they put all that effort into advertising themselves to be.  Those self-deceptions are the way their sociopathic handlers can ride atop them into power as covertly as possible, to then be and do the exact opposite.

    As Jon Stewart suggested, maybe we should be calling them redcoats.

    • I like the redcoats idea. Two days ago I had an idea in the same vein:  Because the Republican Party in the US has been completely captured by the hard right, wouldn't it be great if every public figure who is opposed to Trump started to always refer to that party as the "Trump Party"? I mean always.  Never use the word "republican" in referring to that party. Every Senator, House Member, every politician not in the cult: refuse to grant the term "republican" to the far right party. 

      Start planting doubt in the minds of those voters who have always voted for whoever has an "R" next to their name, and who have support TFG out of loyalty while clinging to the hope that in ten years the party they "knew" will return to sanity.

      For now, I'm not interesting in quibbling with those people over when the capture of the Eisenhower R party began. (Some might think the Tea Party of the 2000's; I say it began with Justice Powell and/or Newt).  But either way, it's the T(rump) party now, and their motto is "Power to the Elites!! 

      I know this would be a marginal play, but this is likely to be a very close election and margins matter.

  3. ? This little experiment of ours / Is pretty damn new and shaky so far / We have the freedom to hang out in bars  / To buy shiny new guns or shiny new cars…

    This Fourth I intend to celebrate the fight to restore democracy, the fight to end the imperial presidency, and the hope of a second reconstruction.

  4. Jefferson was wrong.  His neighbor, 200+ years ago, may not have broken his leg, but my neighbor today (and yours) cannot state his beliefs without, inseparably, in the same breath, claiming the right, if not the obligation, to break my head.  And the law is deemed to protect his threats, but not any steps I might take to defend myself.

  5. EYup ~ it's no bark off my shins, until it is

    Franklin was purported to also have said "'rights' end at the tip of the nose" ~ the general implication as I recall what my grandmother taught that "rights end when they infringe on the rights of others." We all agree for the sake of getting along that lying, coveting, cheating, stealing, shit-talking the neighbor while bonking his wife and butchering his cow, killing, in god's name on Saturday are bad ideas. The 'right' to fire pistols wildly into the air ends with my ~ or my kids, grandkids, great grandkid ~ right to not be randomly struck by chunks of lead falling out of the sky

    The 'right' to do whatever one want's to do ends with the right to be free of the fallout. The 'right' to believe whatever it is to be believed, the right to postulate, to speak freely of it … ends with ramming it down my throat

    Otherwise, no bark off my shin. Really rather humorous …

    • The quote I heard (and it might be legend) was "The right to swing one's arm ends at the tip of my nose" and yes, precisely, that is what it means to live in a free country. You're free to do things that don't injure others.

      Libertarians want to say "you can't stop me from doing anything, unless you can first prove I'm harming you." That's no good, that's saying they have the right to punch us in the nose, so long as the concussion wipes our memory of the punch away. We can't let Libertarians poison the ground, air, and water, and then find they dissolved their LLC, "too late! TRY AND SUE US NOW! HAHAHAHAHA!"

      So, I really prefer the whole "let's not trust untrustworthy people, but, otherwise, let's maximize freedom. "

  6. The U.S. national anthem was written by Francis Scott Key – an anti-abolitionist who enslaved people. The seldom-sung third stanza includes these lines: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

    Frederick Douglass’ famous 4th of July speech:
    A Nation's Story: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

    And yet, African Americans have stood by this country, fought in all its wars for the "promise" of freedom, and yet we reach a point in time where we as a nation still can't even acknowledge our history while on the verge of electing an openly racist bigot promising to take us backwards.  Its really sad..

    “Independence Day” is taking on a new absurdity, for many.

    • Technically, Black people have "freedom" in America, but what they don't have is justice. We also know, from the early post-Civil War, that Black people didn't want to destroy whites. In point of fact, I wonder if that might have been their most egregious crime of all, in the eyes of the Southerners. They'd treated Blacks as beasts of burden, with no more rights than a horse or a mule, and Blacks treated them as human in return.

      If I believed in fairy tales, I'd write a fairy tale about how that is what drove white southerners the most crazy – they were waiting, waiting, waiting, for new hateful  authoritarians to give them an excuse to "defend" themselves against Black governance and they never actually got one, and they despised *that* more deeply than losing the war. How *DARE* Black people turn out to be good, decent, wise, human beings, after being treated as chattel slaves for so long! No wonder Jim Crow was so vicious and hate-filled!


  7. Your mention of John Hancock's famous signature reminds me of an old joke for the 12-year-old set.

    He'd always tell people to sign by saying "put your John Henry there," and when corrected, "you mean Hancock," he'd say "get your hand off your cock and *sign* the damn thing."

    I know, not a good story, but the kind you tell at funerals, "Oh, yeah, that's Frank, all over!" people would say. Here's hoping this just-passed anniversary *isn't* a precursor to a funeral, then.

  8. It is the fifth, which we almost call the 750.  It has been since the Nixon administration that it changed.  Good attempt for a criminal republican from your department of redundancy department, department.  

    The good fireworks were here, but I was doing stupid things in the name of art.  Missed a hell of a literary show.  

    I also miss the Irish Guy, acting like a pup.  Joe if you are listening. the check is in the mail.  I know you have been lied-to so much lately you think this is just one more.  Well, it is not.  If you lie to others, you cannot believe how badly you are lying to yourself.  The great X postal worker, and literary giant, Charles Burkowski once wrote just do what you love to do until it kills you.  If that is how you want to spend your golden years more power to you.  You make me feel like a wimp at my young age.  I must admit I am that too much.  If you are up to it, you have my vote, which won't count at all in the Kansas Oklahoma by God red dirt territory, and the check is in the mail.  


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