Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4

Each year on this date, the Boston Globe--and I imagine other newspapers--publishes the entire text of the Declaration of Independence.  The Globe prints it instead of their daily editorial comments on the Opinion page.

Most years, I attempt to read through the entirety of the document.  It is tough slogging because the language is different reflecting the 241 years of evolutionary changes to how we speak and write. Today I got through it all and marveled, as I do each year, at how well articulated are the reasons and causes for the declaration of independence.

In addition to the well reasoned arguments a number of things struck me, one of which always strikes me, the other probably has but staggered me today nonetheless, and a third made me think of a sentiment more broadly.

It is clear to all of us now that the early words of the Declaration, that we hold self-evident that "all men are created equal" is a startling indication of how even apparently enlightened leaders at that time saw people of color as not in the category of those who are created equal. Similarly, women--until 1920--I think I have the date right--did not have the right to vote. While often "men" until the 1970s were conveniently (and myopically) used to represent men and women, in this case "all men" really did apply to men and white men at that.

The second thing that struck me is that in the Declaration, Jefferson--by accounts the primary author--referred to the first denizens of America as "the merciless Indian savages."

But what struck me the most was this following early paragraph which I did not think about in its broader applications until this morning. (or as likely thought about, but did not retain in the slowly emptying memory bank)

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that [people] 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, is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Beyond oppressive government, aren't we all disposed to suffer, "while evils are sufferable", than to change "by abolishing the forms to which [we] have become accustomed."  In other words, do we live with abominations that we have become accustomed to, until such time that we can't stand it anymore.  And even then, do most of us develop even more callouses so that we endure the abominations? Until we say, enough.

What the authors of the Declaration did was remarkable. After they took just about as much nonsense as they could take, they took a risk and did something about it--they liberated themselves and their contemporaries by taking a stand and then fought to eliminate the oppression.

And we, 241 years later, are the beneficiaries.  I sit here on my deck reading the declaration of independence, free.

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