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4th of July – I Almost Forgot!

For the first time in thirty years I was in the United States for July 4th, though I must confess it almost passed me by. I visited a friend in the San Francisco Bay Area and flew home on the 4th. When I booked the flight, the fact that the return was on the 4th meant nothing to me. I’m asking for understanding here. I lived for thirty years in Great Britain where July 4th was no different than July 3rd and July 5th. I really shouldn’t be admitting this because my conservative colleagues, acquaintances, friends and family will conclude that my breach of national fervor only confirms that I’m a bleeding heart loser. I don’t even own an American flag.

I thought maybe I should embed the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, today known as the Confederate flag, with this blog, you know, to suggest that I’m not a complete loser. However, I thought I should honor the Daughters of the Confederacy who back in the 1920s advocated that the flag not be used. In fact, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia only became ubiquitous in the late 1950’s when the Supreme Court forced the southern states to integrate. I keep hearing the flag represents tradition and not racism. I did my best to buy in, but then I read what William T. Thompson, the designer of the flag, said:

As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would this be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.

Mr. Thompson pretty much sealed the deal for me, along with Dylann Roof posing proudly with the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia shortly before he attempted to start a race war by killing nine African Americans in a church. I’m a bleeding heart, no doubt about it.

Anyway, before I boarded the flight from San Jose to Seattle I did realize it was Independence Day. When I got back to Seattle, that very night Roberta and I mingled with thousands on Lake Washington to watch the firework display. Great fun. Glad I was back after so many years for the celebration. Having said that, it wasn’t all smiles and patriotism. I do try, but it might be best to get the bad stuff out of the way.

In the spring of 1776 the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia issued the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. In the Declaration there is a list of grievances against King George the Third of Great Britain. In the last grievance we find these words:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. (my italics).

These words remind us that the native peoples of North and South America were probably less enamored by the Declaration of Independence. Genocide can to that to you.

John Adams attended the Continental Congress and on March 31, 1776 is wife Abigail Adams wrote him a letter asking that women be included in this new social and political order. She wrote:

I long to hear that you have declared Independence – and by the way in the new code of law which I suppose will be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any law in which we have no voice, or representation.

In hindsight, John Adams’s response is predictable. He noted that freed slaves, apprentices and the poor were also demanding equality and inclusion in the new dispensation, and he wrote:

But your letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented…This rather too coarse a Compliment buy you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out.

Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Altho they are in in full Force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our Power in its full Latitude…We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the Petticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight...I begin to think the Ministry as deep as they are wicked. After stirring up Tories, Landjobbers, Trimmers, Bigots, Canadians, Indians, Negros, Hanoverians, Hessians, Russians, Irish Roman Catholicks, Scotch Renegadoes, at last they have stimulated thee to demand new Privileges and threaten to rebel.

Suffice it to say that the various “tribes” – women, the poor, Native Americans, African Americans, etc. – were not included in the profound and inspiring words “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Mr. Adams and the other boys at the convention were emphatically clear that when the said all men are created equally, they really did mean men, with a qualifier. By “all” them meant male property owners. In fact, the first draft of the Declaration included reference to property and not happiness.

The words merciless Indian savages and the rejection of the various “tribes” who were not propertied white males, remind us of one of the two founding malaises of the genesis of the United States: Racism, as realized in genocide and slavery. The other is, of course, the worship of weapons. Both racism and an ideology of weapons is so ingrained in the DNA of the country – in its founding myth, history, culture, politics, economics and legal system – that it seems there is no hope of ever cleansing the commonwealth and body politic. And yet…

Even given all that I said above, somehow, as if by a miracle, the ideal that “all men” meant “all people” was embedded in the founding mythology of the nation, and it lasted, indeed still lasts today. How did radical inclusiveness take root and survive when the men who founded the country were exclusive? How did it become an American ideal? For example:

On February 3, 1870 the 15th Amendment was passed by Congress: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. The 15th Amendment did not include woman, but in August 1920 the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing all women the right to vote, became law. On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage equality giving the LGBT community the right to marry in all 50 states.

I must confess when it comes to redressing injustices I am not a patient person. It took 204 years from Abigail Adam’s letter to the enactment of the 19th Amendment. It took longer for the LGBT community to find their place in the laws of the land. And yet, we keep moving forward. Our infrastructure is crumbling. We are going bankrupt supporting our military presence around the world, which in turn protects our business interest, and yet, we are moving forward. The Civil War was a long time ago, but it is only now that the Confederate flag is being taken down, and yet, we move forward. I get it. We'r far from perfect. But just for today, just for the moment, let’s park our complaints in a safe place and simply celebrate. The United States and its people have done an awful lot of what is right.

Copyright © 2015 Dale Rominger

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