Happy 2nd of July
We're all celebrating the wrong day. You know that, right? Maybe it's because I'm from Philadelphia, where this whole independence movement came from. Maybe it's because I've spent hours in Independence Hall, and at the City Tavern where the Founding Fathers set off to drink and celebrate after signage, and at the very house where Thomas Jefferson stayed that summer of 1776 and penned arguably the first blog post, with its confrontational and unseemly rhetoric that caused David Broder's ancestors to drop their teacups and retire to the fainting couch.
But I thought everybody knew that independence of this nation was agreed to by all parties on July 2nd.
Congress was called to order on July 1st at 9am and serious debate consumed most of that hot and humid Monday. Late in the day it was apparent that the delegates from Pennsylvania and South Carolina were not ready to pass the Lee resolution for Independence. Additionally the two delegates from Delaware were split so debate was postponed until the following day. On July 2, 1776 both Robert Morris and John Dickinson deliberately abstained by not attending the session and the remaining Pennsylvania delegation voted for independence. South Carolina leader's son, Arthur Middleton, chose to ignore his absent and ailing father's Tory wishes changing the colony's position to aye. Finally the great patriot Caesar Rodney with his face riddled with cancer rode all night through the rain and a lightening storm arriving in time to break the Delaware 1 to 1 deadlock by casting the third vote for independence. Thus all 12 colonies voted on July 2nd and adopted the resolution, introduced by Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, declaring independence from Great Britain:
"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.''
On July 2, 1776 the United Colonies of America officially became the United States of America.
John Adams, in one of his series of letters to his wife Abigail, wrote that July 2nd would be the founding date for posterity. He got the type of celebration right, but not the assumption that Americans would remember history:
"The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
Congress then made some minor edits to the document over the next couple of days, edits that angered Jefferson (one of them removing any reference to enslaving Africans, and another "conveying censures upon the people of England" for allowing this colonialism to continue), and the final changes were approved, and the declaration adopted, on July 4th. But the United States of America, this nation, was avowed and ordained on July 2nd, 1776.
And when you think about the two events that George W. Bush has managed to hold on those anniversaries, you get all the more disgusted with how far we have traveled from a collection of patriots who refused to be shackled by the tyranny of a king, to a President who accepts that regal mantle and governs not for a nation but for himself and his coterie.
Because on July 2, 2003, 227 years after the adoption of the Lee resolution for independence, the President of the United States committed the nation to an unrelenting parade of death that lasts to this day by stupidly issuing a dare and speaking for our troops in Iraq:
"There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on," Bush said. "We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation."
How cowardly and odious a statement. At least the men asserting independence on July 2nd were prepared to fight for it. This draft-dodger who never saw combat saw fit to make boasts from the comfort of the White House, while 19 and 20 year-olds, who weren't given the proper life-saving equipment, who weren't given sufficient body armor, who didn't have enough of their compatriots watching their back, were tasked with carrying out such a threat. They didn't have any mission except trying to save their own life, they were turned into targets by a foolish President who should have never sent them to the deserts of Mesopotamia in the first place. George Bush incited a riot that led to the needless deaths of over 4,000 Americans (counting contractors, who are in Iraq in greater numbers that troops, so they deserve to be counted).
And then four years later, on the 231st anniversary of the founding of this nation, the President of the United States, in what Keith Olbermann rightly called a crystallizing moment, obtrsucted justice into an investigation of the compromising of an intelligence asset by commuting the sentence of a political crony to ensure his silence. He did so while ignoring all of his own laws for executive clemency, as he has ignored Congressional statutes and executive orders in the past. He made the decision that one set of laws exists for the overwhelming majority of our citizens, and quite another for those who have information on his consistent lawbreaking, or just happen to be a friend of the family.
These two actions are among the many delineated in the Declaration of Independence as root causes for revolution, certainly in the case of obstructing justice and refusing to assent to laws. These were exactly the type of depredations that caused, even demanded, a group of colonists to take on the strongest Army the world had ever seen to that point, and cast aside the bonds of tyranny to establish their own entity, in the name of the basic human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And they said:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
The commemoration of this audacious event, twice in the past four years, has been to act in the very opposite manner, to mirror not so much the likes of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson but King George hiimself. And the question is whether or not we will live up to our ideals and choose the proper role models in reaction to these events.
It is nearly July 4th, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a King who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them—or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them—we would force our independence, and regain our sacred freedoms.
We of this time—and our leaders in Congress, of both parties—must now live up to those standards which echo through our history: Pressure, negotiate, impeach—get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our Democracy, away from its helm.
For you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task. You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed. Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed, on August 9th, 1974.
And give us someone—anyone—about whom all of us might yet be able to quote John Wayne, and say, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.”
Happy 2nd of July.