July 6th, 2005



Monday was July 4th, the date the United States officially recognizes as Independence Day. I write this on July 6th because I think it's odd to commemorate the date a document was officially set forth when there was still a war to be fought and won, and because it's important that we think about that document and our nation for more than just a single day of the year. Independence day should not be thought of as a nation's birthday, becoming an independent nation isn't something you do once and then are done with, as many nations can attest, rather it is a milestone on a very long journey.

The Declaration of Independence was written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and issued forth as a document of revolution. It contains many lofty ideals that were never achieved in Jefferson's lifetime (Such as all men having the right to life and liberty) and phrases that seem either petty or crass through the hindsight of history (Perhaps if written today it would have left out the part about the merciless Indian Savages.) Jefferson is widely considered the intellectual father of our country even though he was not around to help in the drafting of the constitution, partially because his peers thought he was too revolutionary. Thomas Jefferson had a tendency to say things like "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," which are not conducive to the creation of a stable and long lasting government.

Jefferson knew that. A lot of the founding fathers, in fact, believed that periodic revolution was a necessity. Tom Paine even suggested that maintaining laws on the books without voting on them again periodically was tantamount to tyranny of the dead over the living. These founders thought that any government entrenched for long enough would become, to a degree, tyrannical and incestuous. They were not wrong.

It is interesting, then, that July 4th has become a day of patriotic zeal and respect for the government. It is a time when we hear about how over 200 years ago a rag-tag bunch of patriots defeated the great British army to bring freedom to the people and birth the greatest nation on the face of the earth. Rather than a time for revolution and progressive ideals it has become a monument to conservatism and looking to the past.

I say this should stop.

The declaration of independence was not about declaring fealty to the government, it was about fighting against the established order to bring a more perfect justice and nation into being. It was not perfect and it did not lead to the birth of a perfect state. For hundreds of years minorities and women were denied the vote. Blacks were kept in inhuman bondage and degraded by unjust laws, Native Americans were slaughtered by the millions for the great crime of wanting the federal government to honor the contracts it had made with various tribes. Now America finds itself slaughtering and oppressing in foreign lands, telling the people of Iraq how they should be governed in ways not dissimilar to those that the colonists found so abusive when great Britain was the powerful entity.

This is not the way it ought to be. As Americans we should look back on July 4 1776 and remember that this country was founded by imperfect people who wanted to overthrow tyranny and power. It has now been hijacked. If we want to venerate the past then we should look to the future and what we can do to make it better. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." The tree of liberty is withering.

We don't need to shoot or kill anybody to refresh the tree of liberty because the founders left us with another option. The vote. We need to take the spirit of independence day from the arbitrary date of July 4th and carry it with us into November when it can do some good in the voting booth. As modern Americans it is our duty to remember the spirit of revolution and progress and to work to uphold it. That would mean much more to Mr. Jefferson than shooting off some fireworks and marching in a parade. I guarantee it.
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