The most important words in 18th century American history: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In the 19th: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
In the 20th:
First third: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Middle third: “I have a dream.”
Final third: “Can’t we all just get along?”
Too early to tell about the 21st century. If unreserved arrogance is the theme, Bush and his folks have a lock on it.
A New York Times tradition: Publishing an image of the original printed version of Declaration of Independence, complete with John Hancock and others’ signatures. Always inspiring to read when you need to have your civic idealism refreshed, though yesterday I didn’t read the declaration but found myself thinking about the non-PCness of one phrase: “merciless Indian savages” (from this passage: The king “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”).
Later, or earlier — I can’t remember which — Kate pointed out the San Francisco Chronicle’s lead editorial for the day: “Patriots, awaken.” I don’t expect much these days from the mostly tired and uninspired Chron, but its little Fourth of July essay was very good. In part:
“…Perhaps it is the lingering shock effects of Sept. 11, 2001, or maybe it is the complacency of a half-century of growing affluence, but too many Americans seem all too willing to ignore Benjamin Franklin’s admonition about the danger of sacrificing essential liberties for temporary security. The Bush administration has been adroit at invoking the war on terrorism to justify policies that should be setting off alarms in this democracy.
“At what point will Americans draw the line at these intrusions on civil liberties and usurpations of power by the White House? Revelations that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on phone calls and e-mails without getting the required warrants didn’t do it. The disclosure that the government has compiled a vast database of Americans’ phone records didn’t do it. The hundreds of examples of President Bush’s unprecedented expansion of the number and scope of “signing statements” in which he gave himself the option to ignore parts of laws he objected to — such as torture — didn’t do it.
“Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration’s system for military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay that openly defied congressional law and international rules on the treatment of prisoners of war. So, what was the reaction in Congress? Regrettably, but not surprisingly in this era, there were immediate moves to give the president such authorization. ”
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected it with another and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station which the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.”
Kate and I and a neighbor, Jill Martinucci, read (or maybe performed is a better word) a slightly abridged version of the Declaration to the assembled multitudes at our street’s annual Fourth of July picnic today. The main event at the gathering is a watermelon-seed-spitting contest (a new neighborhood record, 43 feet-plus, was set today), so I was afraid reading this, even with our little interjections, would be seen as a little preachy. But several people came up to us later to day they hadn’t read the Declaration in a while and it was good to hear the words again.