Every Independence Day for many years, I would read the Declaration of Independence before going joining my family in the Salem Willows for the annual Horribles parade and Conway BBQ. Since Ferguson, I have coupled that with reading Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”. Jefferson and Douglass are both patriots, autodidactic geniuses, and authentically American.
True history as David French eloquently reminds us, requires learning about 1776 and 1619. French, a deeply Christian conservative, rightly recognizes that the virtues of this nation can only spring forth if we name and atone for our collective sins. There’s a Yin and a Yang. The Tulsa riots and I Have a Dream. D-Day and the internment of Japanese American civilians. The nobility and bravery of landing a man on the Moon the same year we landed even more men and dropped more bombs into the futility of Vietnam. This tension between progress and reaction, nobility and hubris, patriotism and jingoism, is at the heart of our experiment in self government.
To do this we must know and name our shortcomings and atone for them. Douglass names the shortcomings of the founding generation for his to atone for them on the battlefields of Gettysburg, also fought on July 4th. This new birth of freedom secured by the men in blue and the abolitionists and escaped slaves before them is renewed every generation. By the suffragists, by the anti-war movement, by the civil rights movement, by Stonewall, by feminists, and by those of us today resisting authoritarianism and forging an inclusive patriotism. This patriotism is rooted in the founding, for its really just taking that same radical idea and radically applying it to all people. That it’s up to all of us to live up to the ideals of our shared creed: that we are all free and we all equal. Happy Independence Day!