Today is Independence Day, the day we commemorate the inception of our nation with the signing of The Declaration of Independence in 1776. Of course from our modern vantage point, more than two centuries removed from that fateful day in Philadelphia, we tend to compress the 12 years between the signing of the Declaration and the ratifying U.S. Constitution, which included another seven years of the Revolutionary War and the failed Articles of Confederation.
Furthermore, the passage of time has also diluted our understanding of how revolutionary the founding of our nation was and still is to this day. For despite how often the Progressive Left loves to prattle on about “our Democracy” (by which they mean themselves, and not you), America was formed as a constitutional republic. One that took all the best that the philosophical traditions of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem handed onto Western Civilization, and later grafted onto the Anglo-Saxon social traditions that were carried over by English settlers.
In this way the West’s natural law notion that all men (which at the time meant all of humanity) were possessed of certain inalienable (God-given) rights, was codified into the U.S. Constitution with the state being established to uphold and protect those rights.
Nowadays however, the history and the relevance of the Fourth of July, are rejected by large swaths of Americans who have been been “educated” to view America’s founding and its founders as racist, patriarchal or any of the other jaded shibboleths of the modern Left. Some groups like Black Lives Matter or persons like Senator Cori Bush come right out and say that they will not celebrate the Fourth because as Bush says, “When they say that the 4th of July is about American freedom, remember this: the freedom they’re referring to is for white people.”
Bush’s words are typical of that class of overly-educated elites who use race, class, and gender as filters through which they assess every aspect of life. They are possessed of a deep and acute sense of “alienation from America” because of the racial inequalities they see today, which they believe stem from America’s acceptance of slavery when it was founded. Thus when it comes to the founding principles we celebrate today, they see “America’s betrayals of the ideals of liberty and equality as betrayals in the nation’s founding principles rather than betrayals of them.” In other words (and in a very strange way) they have adopted the very same view of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who burned a copy of the Constitution as he (quoting Isaiah 28:18) called it a “covenant with death” and “an agreement with hell.”
However, history has not been kind to Garrison and his views, nor his ideological descendants. For it was not the rejection of the Declaration of Independence or our Constitution, that brought us where we are today, but the insistence that we live up to the principles they espoused. In fact it was a former disciple of Garrison, who broke away from Garrison’s form of abolition, that helped shape the America of today.
Frederick Douglass and his Challenge to American
Born a slave in 1818 with the given name, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, in Maryland, Frederick Douglass was always a strong-willed and intelligent person. Eventually he escaped in 1838 and made his way to New Bedford, Massachusetts where he labored during the day and was a lay preacher at night. Later he became involved in the abolitionist movement, which is where he met William Lloyd Garrison, who took Douglass under his wing for a time. Douglass' skill as an orator and his fame grew, and eventually the two parted ways, with Douglass founding his own abolitionist newspaper called The North Star. Douglass would go on to become the major force in the American abolitionist movement, going so far as to meet and advise Abraham Lincoln.
While it is true that his earlier views were acerbically denunciatory of slavery and the nation that hypocritically allowed it, Douglass’ views would change over time. In fact his split with Garrison came about because he would not accept Garrison’s doctrine that the U.S. Constitution was a pro-slavery document. Instead he came to appreciate the meaning and significance of America’s founding principles and how, as with so many of the evils on this side of Heaven, it was was not the principles that were lacking but the courage of individual Americans to live those principles out.
In 1852, Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, where he laid out in stirring detail how it was a “slander on the memory of the Framers” to call the Constitution a pro-slavery document. He went onto to say that the Founding Fathers,
“were brave men. They were great men too…. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes.” In his discerning view, however, the main source of their greatness—the virtue that enabled them to be more than revolutionaries, the Founders of a great republic—inhered not in their bravery but in their dedication to the “eternal principles,” the “saving principles,” set forth in the unique revolutionary document they dared to sign. “Your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately…and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you…. Mark them!"
Interestingly many of today’s racial grievance activists like to cite this speech to validate their own Critical Race-Garrisonian take on American history. To be certain, Douglass doesn't hold back and calls out the America of his time for wrongly allowing slavery to survive, as well as giving it a new lease on life with the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law that had been passed two years before his speech. But to point to this speech as proof that racism is built into America's DNA, is a view that can only be held by your modern vapid and low-information slacktivistss who have never read the entire speech; let alone realizing that other people can do so as well.
Pursuing the Eternal Principles- Today and Always
Recently, I quipped to a friend that the way inflation is going we may have to bring back the $1000 bill, and when I was asked who should be on it, I said, “Frederick Douglass.” And why not? The man represents the best of what America is capable of producing when (as Douglass called them) its “eternal” and “saving” principles are acknowledged and lived out.
How many of those who are in the habit of castigating America as being founded in white supremacy, or say or imply that the Civil Rights era was a complete failure, or that blacks are still feeling the effects of slavery today, can claim to have accomplished as much as Douglass? The answer, none. After all (as far as is known) none of them were slaves that escaped bondage and went onto live the real American dream of, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Instead, despite being the recipients of a peaceful, prosperous, and (dare I say) privileged world, they nonetheless are filled with ingratitude and reject what has been handed onto them. Instead, they have been taught to see themselves as the victims of some imaginary and jaundiced view of American history, which they believe grants them some sort of kinship with those who truly were oppressed.
Yet the life of Frederick Douglass shows that while our history has and will always have dark periods that we are rightfully ashamed of, those times will only come about when we fail to meet up to our our founding principles. They are the principles we are celebrating today, but which we should diligently pursue each and every day. And as for those who question those principles, if they were good enough for someone like Frederick Douglass and all the other people who are dying (sometimes literally) to come this country for the sake of those principles, they they should be good enough you you!
Photo Credit- swiftriverpress.com