July Fourth (II)

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. ”

2 Replies to “July Fourth (II)”

  1. I’d like to know what percentage of Americans actually know what’s in the Declaration of Independence. I’m sure most could extract “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” from the recesses of their American history lessons. But could most folks tell you that the biggest part of the DofI is a detailed summation and litany of all the egregious tramplings of personal liberties performed by George III and the forces occupying the colonies? I’d bet that Jefferson and the signers viewed this as the most important part of the document rather than the more familiar second paragraph.

  2. Good question, K. We’ve actually read the Declaration aloud at our neighborhood Fourth of July gathering a couple of times. It’s good to remind ourselves all of what’s in there.

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