Readings for Independence Day

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A blessed Independence Day to everyone. When the 4th of July falls on a Sunday, it's a rare opportunity to gather in our churches on our nation's birthday and give thanks for the blessings of liberty for which our forefathers fought and died. Not that we should worship or idolize our country with its imperfections, but we ought to acknowledge that America is uniquely blessed and that God has used America to bless people all over the world. As John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail following the approval of the Continental Congress of a resolution to declare independence:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Sadly, the occasion was scarcely acknowledged at our church this morning. Given what the music director later posted as his Facebook status, I shouldn't be surprised: "i cannot in good conscience sing or talk about what a wonderful country this is." What accounts for that kind of disdain, all too common among younger Americans? Perhaps the decline of civics education, as noted by The Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia, in her Independence Day entry, which is accompanied by a Jay Leno "Jaywalking" segment asking random people on the street about the Revolutionary War:

Civics class taught you things like: when, how and why America was formed. What the Declaration of Independence was; what the Constitution said, and the origination of the Bill of Rights. We learned about Federalism, the separation of powers, the structure of our government and why it was thusly formed. Our history classes taught us about Minutemen, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Dolly and James Madison, Marbury vs. Madison, Slavery, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Industrial Revolution and so forth. We learned the history of Europe, too, but American history had primacy....

45 years ago, we did not spend on education anything near what we spend, now. But as we see here, the people who were educated in the bad-old unenlightened, uncoddled days of rote memorization and unforgiving tests can actually answer a simple question like, "how many colonies were there, at the founding of the United States?"

Watch this; it's depressing, and it makes one wonder if our kids are purposely being shortchanged in schools.

Perhaps if you want to control a country's future, you must first insure that its citizenry are ignorant of its past, and distracted by its present.

Note that, at the end of the Jay Leno video, after a dad, a mom, and a teenage boy display their ignorance about the founding of our nation, the grandfather ticks off the correct answers without hesitation. I imagine he had a few years of civics in school.

And I'd bet that most legal immigrants to the US would fare better answering Leno's questions. They're required to answer a series of civics questions as part of the U. S. citizenship exam.

Daniel Hannan, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom, wishes the US a Happy Independence Day and writes of the inspiration he draws from the principles of the American Revolution, which, he argues, belong to the UK as well:

They saw themselves, not as revolutionaries, but as conservatives. All they were asking for, in their own minds, was the rights which they had always assumed to be theirs as freeborn Englishmen....

Thomas Jefferson, whose bust stares at me as I write this blog, had wanted to include a touching phrase in the Declaration, but his fellow authors excised it: "We might have been a great and free people together". Indeed. Everything I have done in politics has been an attempt to apply Jeffersonian principles to British political conditions. Decisions should be taken as closely as possible to those they affect, and decision-makers made accountable through the ballot box. Everything else - autonomous local councils, referendums, recall procedures, tax cuts, withdrawal from the EU, elected sheriffs, the Great Repeal Bill - follows from those two simple precepts.

It is time to bring back to the mother country the ideology that inspired the most sublime constitution devised by human intelligence. It is time, in short, to repatriate our revolution.

Given the extent to which Britain has subjugated itself to the European Union and has abridged its own citizens' rights (such as the right for law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms), the USA serves the cause of British liberty by keeping the "rights of freeborn Englishmen" alive somewhere in the world.

R. C. Sproul, writing in 2008, recalled asking Francis Schaeffer what was the greatest threat to the church in America. Schaeffer's one word answer: "Statism."

Schaeffer's biggest concern at that point in his life was that the citizens of the United States were beginning to invest their country with supreme authority, such that the free nation of America would become one that would be dominated by a philosophy of the supremacy of the state.

In statism, we see the suffix "ism," which indicates a philosophy or worldview. A decline from statehood to statism happens when the government is perceived as or claims to be the ultimate reality. This reality then replaces God as the supreme entity upon which human existence depends....

Throughout the history of the Christian church, Christianity has always stood over against all forms of statism. Statism is the natural and ultimate enemy to Christianity because it involves a usurpation of the reign of God. If Francis Schaeffer was right -- and each year that passes makes his prognosis seem all the more accurate -- it means that the church and the nation face a serious crisis in our day. In the final analysis, if statism prevails in America, it will mean not only the death of our religious freedom, but also the death of the state itself. We face perilous times where Christians and all people need to be vigilant about the rapidly encroaching elevation of the state to supremacy.

What would our Founding Fathers have thought of a President of the United States nominating to the U. S. Supreme Court someone who believes that the State has the power to ban books and pamphlets that contain political advocacy:

[Solicitor General Elena] Kagan conceded that although the statute in question did cover "full length books" it would be subject to "quite good" challenges if it was ever so applied in practice. Moreover, she pointed out that the Federal Election Commission never enforced the law with respect to books, implying that citizens should not worry about being prosecuted. Chief Justice Roberts immediately seized on this, saying "We don't put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats." He then asked whether the statute could be used to ban a pamphlet. Such a publication, Kagan admitted, would be different; "a pamphlet is pretty classic electioneering" and could be constitutionally prohibited. She tried to reassure the justices that a book containing hundreds of pages could not be banned just because the last sentence endorsed a candidate, as her deputy had claimed a few months earlier. However, she strongly implied that if the book engaged in "express advocacy" as a whole, it could be banned. Her position would seem to require the FEC to define the differences between books and pamphlets and decide how many sentences in a book are necessary to qualify as "express advocacy." Kagan never addressed whether it was desirable for FEC staffers to become either book reviewers or a de facto national censorship committee. Ultimately, the Court ruled against Kagan by a 5-4 margin.

Finally, Twitter reader @CircleReader posted a link to Frederick Douglass's great 1852 oration, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" While Douglass sharply condemns the political and religious leaders of the day who twisted the principles of the Founders to the end of justifying slavery, the speech as a whole is a reaffirmation of those principles. A few excerpts:

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your "sovereign people" (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown . Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men's souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers....

Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.

Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it....

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day - cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight....

Of the Founders, Douglass said:

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

To the argument that the Constitution justifies slavery, Douglass replied:

In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it....

Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

His hopeful conclusion -- "the doom of slavery is certain" -- was grounded in Divine Providence and in the growth of international communication and commerce, a thought that should give us in the Internet Age even more hope for the defeat of oppression everywhere:

No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are, distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, "Let there be Light," has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

A happy Independence Day to you and yours.

MORE: @AtlasObscura treats us to a plethory of Independence Day links, including one to the Declaration of Independence itself, urging us to "take a minute today to read the whole thing & realize how amazing & unlikely it is." And Terry Teachout provides us with four different performances of "the best of all possible marches" -- "The Stars and Stripes Forever" -- including a performance introduced by the composer, John Philip Sousa, and performed by his band.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 4, 2010 3:14 PM.

Tulsa Election Reform Task Force info; Bynum response on charter amendments was the previous entry in this blog.

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