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Secession Week: Saturday – Declaration of Independence & The American Revolution

July 4, 2009

Declaration Of Independence & The American Revolution

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Welcome to our final climactic mega-extravaganza post of Secession Week, in which we both celebrate the spirit of ’76 and lament its shortcomings. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this marriage of heaven and hell more than Thomas Jefferson himself, a giant whose rhetoric still shines in the firmament (We hold these truths to be self-evident), but whose personal life bespeaks moral turpitude (Sally Hemings). As Stephen Gordon of the Liberty Papers writes:

While I certainly take a great deal of pride in the fact that a lot of people risked their lives, liberty and property to secure a nation free of Europe’s chains, I’ll never forget that we placed even crueler chains upon a significant segment of our own population…

As a white person of mostly European ancestry, I understand the pride that most Americans feel on Independence Day. As I’m not black, I’ll probably never be able to truly understand the feelings of African-Americans on the topic. Were I black, I’d likely feel a sense of pride that many of my ancestors laid down their lives to promote a system of government which eventually led to the freest of societies in the history of the world.  I’d probably also wish to ensure that people never forget the absolute horrors of slavery. As many of my white friends want us to learn from the positives of the founding of our country, my black friends want to ensure that we truly understand our history so we never repeat the same mistakes.

Gordon points us to a moving 1852 speech by Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” who, on the one hand, can say:

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

Yet while also concluding…

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

The Huffington Post suggests that having a black President means that African-Americans can finally celebrate.  But for many, ambivalence about the 4th still continues.  Bryan Caplan wonders “why American independence was worth fighting for?”, with lots of interesting discussion in the comments. And Mencius Moldbug is skeptical too. In Why I Am Not A Libertarian (an essay I quite like, despite being a libertarian myself), Moldbug takes his anti-revolution point of view to its logical conclusion:

Libertarianism is, more or less, basically, the ideology of the American Revolution. And the American Revolution was, in my own personal opinion, more or less, basically, a criminal outrage of the mob – led by leaders who were either unscrupulous, deluded, or both.

This is an extreme claim, but as always, he provides excellent references (more here as well).  Alex Knight at Strike The Root suggests things to do while boycotting the 4th, and Stephen Kinsella at LRC says farewell to Thomas Jefferson, referring (among other things) to Jeff Hummel’s The Constitution As Counter-Revolution, which offers a new twist on history (though not so new, perhaps, if you’ve read the aforementioned links).

But enough curmudgeonly contrarianism, for after all, the American Revolution led to one more nation blooming, and quite a nation it turned out to be.  So let’s turn to…

Independence As Inspiration

For many of us who are displeased with current governments, Independence Day offers great inspiration.  Almost 1500 Tea Party Protests are planned across the country (news coverage here).  John Payne offers four reasons to Celebrate Secession at his blog (cross-posted to The American Conservative):

The most basic reason for supporting secession is that it makes government more accountable to the people it governs.  The smaller a polity is, the easier it is for an individual’s objections to be heard whether that be through voting, petition, protest, etc.  It also becomes harder for one group to oppress another the more they have to interact with each other.  Dehumanizing some distant group is very easy; it is much harder to do with your next door neighbor.  In the words of my all time favorite libertarian hero Karl Hess, “Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany is a horror; Adolf Hitler at a town meeting would be an asshole.”

And Brad Warbiany at the Liberty Papers writes:

On this anniversary of the date of American Independence, it is right to celebrate. It is right to remember the valiant and principled action of the Founding Fathers to take on the world’s great superpower and assert their rights — many lost their lives in the effort. We have a nation worth celebrating.

But in remembrance of those who we are celebrating, it is important to understand their significance in a historic context (again, see the books recommended above). It is important to remember that the principles they are fighting for are again in peril. And it important to realize that in order for those principles to be recovered, we must tirelessly call the United States Government for what it is — illegitimate.

Over at the seasteading blog, last year I called for us to take inspiration from the Declaration:

Nowadays the theoretical morality and practical advantages of replacing despotism with democratic self-government are widely recognized.  Those who throw off the chains of tyranny are following a well-trodden path to a known destination.  But someone had to take that first bold step into the unknown, guided by their vision of a just society and frustration with existing systems … it would have been a terrible loss for humanity if America’s founders had resigned themselves to the status quo of monarchical tyranny.  As it would be for us today to resign ourselves to the status quo of terrestrial democracy.  So on this July 4th, let us pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor that we will not make the same mistake.

At LewRockwell.com, Robert Higgs eloquently explains how we can love our country without loving its government, and Anthony Gregory writes about how the ideas of freedom are catching on.

Our humble event, besides inspiring numerous contributions, has inspired Bill Miller to start a Secession University blog:

For some time now I’ve been toying with the idea of putting together a website where the issues of secession can be fully discussed with every detail and nuance of this knotty subject explored. Your request for postings during this week of celebrating our Declaration of Secession has inspired me to finally pull the idea together.

Today’s inaugural post describes plans for a series of 25 or more posts about the secession of States from the USA.

Misc

Courtesy of the New Yorker

Courtesy of the New Yorker

Wired Magazine reports that North Korea celebrated the holiday by firing a barrage of ballistic missiles – a unique interpretation of traditional fireworks.  We’d rather not think about that, so we’ll take refuge in humor, like John Cleese’s revocation of American Independence, and culture, like The New Yorker’s collection of Independence Day covers.  Speaking of culture, nothing says July 4th in America nowadays like Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, where a new world record was set:

To be more serious for a moment, Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy responds to our Wednesday topic by asking Was the Declaration of Independence an Example of Secession, Revolution, or Both? And Mike Lux at Huffington Post paints the Declaration as a triumph of progressivism over conservatism.  Does that make American Secession Movements the bleeding edge of progressivism?  That would be cool, because extreme progressivism is usually where the babes are.  Hmm, guess the serious thing didn’t last.  That must mean it is BBQ time, so let’s wrap up…

Conclusion

Your authors and editors here at Let A Thousand Nations Bloom have labored long and hard this week on bringing you a fine selection of Independence and Secession related ideas, and we hope you’ve enjoyed it.  Now we’re off to our BBQs and parties (if you are too, perhaps you’d like to read tips for outdoor cooking, or how to photograph fireworks?)

But the event doesn’t have to end today.  If you found Secession Week thought-provoking and valuable, then share it/post it/digg it/tweet it when you get back to the office on Monday, consider subscribing to our blog regularly, and keep us in mind next year, when the event will return, bigger and better.  In the meantime, there are no finer words we could leave you with than these:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.

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