In celebration of the 241st Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence yesterday, Plunderbund shared a series of quotes from American history regarding the Fourth of July and our self-governance.
This would seem to be more important than ever at a time in the history of the United States of America where the President doesn’t appear to know or respect that history, the principles or self-government, or the weight of the democratic institutions in our Republic.
The first quote comes from James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison did not attend the Second Continental Congress where the Declaration of Independence was passed in 1776, but he was instrumental in the writing, passage, and ratification of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights between 1787 and 1789.
In this quote, Madison lays out a bedrock principle of the Enlightenment, the power of knowledge, and the role that it must play in the American small-r republican experiment, if the Republic is to continue to survive. We find it especially fitting for the state of the Union in 2017.
The second quote we shared comes from the Declaration of Independence itself. While the second paragraph of the Declaration, regarding the unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” among others, is the most-often quoted portion of the text, we decided to share the last sentence of the Declaration out of reverence for its communal spirit and calls to duty and dignity.
In our next quote, we shared a portion of former slave Frederick Douglass’ “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” speech.
Columnist Molly Ivins once said that American history can be viewed as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in the Constitution to everyone.
In 1852, eight years before the Civil War, Douglass made a Fourth of July speech excoriating the United States for the hypocrisy of slavery in light of the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence. While righteously setting rhetorical flame to the hypocrisy, Douglass had this to say about the principles themselves:
“Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold (the Fourth) in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ringbolt 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.”
On the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in 1876, the National Woman Suffrage Association presented a “Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States,” written by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage.
They were denied the opportunity to present the document during official ceremonies at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. While some boycotted the event altogether, five others attended the event, and, during a break in the proceedings, marched authoritatively to the front of the platform and delivered a reading of their Declaration.
It wouldn’t be until 1920 – fewer than 100 years ago – that women would gain the franchise nationally. Meanwhile, Jim Crow laws disenfranchising black voters in the south would not be addressed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is under attack in 2017.
For our final quote, we shared the thoughts of John Adams.
Nobody fought as hard in the debate at the Second Continental Congress over declaring Independence as John Adams.
Adams asked Thomas Jefferson to pen the actual Declaration, saying, “I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise.” But when it came to the orations that brought the vote, Adams won the day.
At a time where U.S. Congressional Republicans are actively trying to decimate the American healthcare system in order to funnel money upward to their wealthy friends, and Republicans in Ohio’s General Assembly are poised to destroy the healthcare social safety net for 500,000 of our state’s working poor, Adam’s words ring the loudest.
Government is not instituted for the profit of a special class of men – the wealthy – it is instituted by us for all of us. It is our incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to hold our government to account when it so attacks our safety and happiness.
The Ohio General Assembly will soon vote on overriding Gov. John Kasich’s veto of their Medicaid expansion freeze. No matter how many fireworks you shot off or hot dogs you ate over the long weekend, nothing could be more patriotic than standing up for your fellow Americans, calling your state legislator, and telling him or her to vote no on this thoughtless, heartless override.