The American Civil War, known commonly by that name, but by many others, too, all depending on one’s point of view, has, in fact, no official name. The Fourth of July, known commonly by that name, does have an official name, and it isn’t that. It is Independence Day.

All depending on one’s point of view, we celebrate the best of the USA too much, too little, or just right. It is the considered opinion of the editorial staff here at the sad red earth that it behooves us to reflect more than we do on the fact that what was Independence Day for some was not independence day for all. Some – African slaves – were pointedly excluded from the freedom of independence; some, American Indians, already in the  process of losing their independence in some parts of the colonies for over a century, would go on to lose all of it everywhere. Many of their descendants nonetheless went on to fight for the United States in its wars. They have been little rewarded for it.

The Navajo Cemetery at Window Rock, AZ (Photo by Julia Dean)

Worth contemplating, too, are some ideas in the Declaration of Independence, some of which are little recalled, others of which are so common to the ear they have become like street noise filtered from conscious recognition.

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 to 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 shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

The first part of the opening paragraph is too often learned by rote and mechanically recalled. Politicians confuse it with the introduction to the Constitution. The last clause is little known or recalled.

…a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We owe it to our fellows to explain our actions, and a “decent respect” means neither rationalization nor sophistry. It means a good, honest case. The signers go on to provide that.

The second paragraph, with little effort, can be seen as relevant to many people in many other nations today, in some instances very actively right now. Most people would acknowledge the justness in applying the Declaration’s ideas to these situations. In contrast, there are those today, as always, who speak of rebellion and the overthrow of systems and governments with far less appeal to clear and brute facts and far more to theoretical representations of reality. Many of these will fail to note what immediately follows that final clause in the opening paragraph. To declare truths to be self-evident may not be (it should not be) to close one’s mind to any further thought on the matter. But it demands a counter argument on behalf of a different idea that no one yet has made with any rigor greater than the contortion of their own and other people’s minds to credit, or other people’s bodies to resist.

AJA

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charlie k July 4, 2011 at 10:32 am

Frederick Douglass’ 4th of July speech remains the most poignant thought on the meaning of being an American!

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