Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why celebrate July 4th?

Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1900
Ask people to quote the opening words of America's Constitution, and at least some of them will begin, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal..."  Those are important words, but they do not come from the Constitution.  They open the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.  We celebrate July 4, 1776 because 56 men were brave enough to sign The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.  Doing so made them traitors to the British Crown.  Today we know that their quest succeeded, but at the time they affixed their signatures the likelihood of success was shaky, to say the least.

Their Declaration began, "When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another...they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation."  These quoted sections are familiar to many Americans, and the date of the Declaration is known to nearly everyone, but many of us have forgotten or never read the detailed reasons given by the signers.  We sought our independence because of what those signers believed were "...a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.  To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World."

The U.S. Declaration of Independence
The key phase to this Declaration, in my view, is "let Facts be submitted."  It is the linchpin to our democracy.  These founding fathers did not simply say, 'Great Britain is a long way off and we are of an independent nature, so let's establish our own nation.'  Rather, they provided specific facts in support of their actions.  Neither did they stop by simply alleging "repeated Injuries and Usurpations."  They listed what they found injurious and wrongful appropriations.

When they concluded their Declaration by "mutually pledge[ing] to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" they understood the consequences should their cause fail.  It was facts that they set before the world and facts which made ordinary men in the militia of the separate states take up arms.

In 1776 ordinary Americans needed to rely on the honor of their leaders' word.  Today we have Fact Checkers!

Political cartoon from County Capital
The drift toward name calling and distortion of facts was already well established by the time workers confronted wealth and power with the progressive movement.  Initially, Isaac joined with others in his county in a local Farmers' Alliance, and their goals included:  "To develop a better state mentally, morally, socially, and financially;" and "Constantly to strive to secure entire harmony and good-will among all mankind and brotherly love among ourselves."  The Alliance was the organization upon which Isaac and many other Kansas farmers placed such hope for educating and improving farmers lives and the methods which would allow them to succeed. However, ultimately workers came together politically, and the ideals of the Alliance were overwhelmed by political language.  Political speakers and political cartoons villainized those with opposing views and exaggerated and distorted facts to support their opinions and belittle the opinions of their opposition.

Were there exaggerations among the facts given in support of declaring independence from Great Britain.  Probably.  But causes are more likely to succeed when facts form the motivation for actions.  The People's Party failed when they set aside their original goals and followed the call of a candidate whose oratory drifted away from facts and appealed to emotions."...[W]e shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns.  You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold," cried William Jennings Bryan, and the People's Party left behind their own goals to join the Democrats in nominating the young Nebraska orator for President.  The power of strong language stirs voters now, as Bryan's oratory did in Isaac's time, but the Founding Fathers' example of basing decisions on facts remains a model for every generation.

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