Saturday, July 04, 2015

Celebrating Independence Day!

A very Happy Independence Day to all Americans!

America declared its independence 239 years ago today with Thomas Jefferson's soaring words that " we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal". However, the institution of slavery which most visibly contradicted the declaration's Enlightenment rhetoric remained intact, only to be abolished 89 years later after the Civil War.

As a naturalized American, I take the greatest pride in America's history of expanding the umbrella of constitutional liberties for all its people, starting with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution through to the Emancipation Proclamation, Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment, Women's Suffrage and the Civil Rights Act. There have been bitter fights and innumerable setbacks along the way but, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, the arc of American history has bent toward justice.

In my mind, the representative scenes of American independence are of Washington crossing the Delaware or hunched-over participants at the Constitutional Convention. But I also think of the image of the exhausted and prematurely aged Abraham Lincoln, standing on the East Portico underneath the completed Capitol Dome, after taking the oath of office the second time. The greatest struggle for the advance of liberty in America was to end slavery and its signature moment was Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address on March 4th, 1865, barely more than a month before he was assassinated.

It is the most powerful work of oratory and literary genius in American political history. Here are some excerpts:

"Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged."...

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."...

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

A very happy 4th to you!

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