Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Americans know what the Fourth of July is. I’m guessing most of the rest of the world does as well. I can’t help but wonder if celebrating the holidays of other cultures (like Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, May Day and so forth) is something unique to this country, or if it’s something other countries do as well. I do know that the American Independence Day celebration has historically not been celebrated in Great Britain, although, I wonder if they will be celebrating not being involved in our political mess this year.
The American Revolutionary War ran from 1775 through 1783. Less than a quarter of a million people fought in the colonist’s army, and there were less than five thousand deaths in battle, although the inevitable disease and famine following wars may have accounted for significantly more.
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of facts about the settling of the colonies and the revolution twisted to fit a political agenda that had nothing to do with America’s history at all. For example, it is not uncommon to hear people pushing their religious agenda claiming that America was settled as a Christian land. Actually, that’s wrong. Most of the settlers came to this nation to get away from religious persecution. The reality is that this nation was never settled to champion any given religion, including Christianity, but rather to escape religious persecution. In the fifteenth century, theocracies were common. The King of France was closely aligned with the Holy Church of Rome, and the King of England, upset with restrictions of Catholicism, established the Church of England. The people of the land were required to belong to the church designated by the King, so groups like the Quakers immigrated to the newly discovered Americas to escape religious persecution. With this history, the US Constitution was written to explicitly separate church and state, including the very first article in the Bill of Rights a passage guaranteeing religious freedom. This is what freedom should mean: Freedom to believe what you believe; Freedom to love who you love; Freedom from fear of unjust persecution based on who you are.
Our founding fathers didn’t agree on everything, but unlike modern politicians, they knew how to listen to opposing points of view, compromise and come to a consensus. For example, in first American Congress, the Federalists, lead by Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong federal government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson, advocated for strong state rights. Jefferson envisioned something like Europe (before the European Union) where each state is independent and free to govern themselves without interference from other states short of wars, while Hamilton saw something more like the British Empire with colonies ruled by the unquestioned authority of the central government.
In the end, the compromise was the system we have today, with states maintaining certain rights of self-government with the federal government responsible for the overall security of the nation. Unfortunately, through the years, the states have yielded many of their rights to the point where now the federal government is more powerful than ever.
Our nation is not perfect. Our founding fathers knew this would be the case. Thomas Jefferson once said that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Basically, he foresaw a federal government growing so powerful and falling into the hands of tyrants that regular revolutions were inevitable. Today’s demonstrations remind me of that quote, not that we’re in an all-out revolution, at least not yet, but nobody can deny that blood is being spilled.
The constitution was written with this in mind. It was, by design, meant to be capable of modification through constitutional amendments and laws, and to allow for complete regime changes, should the people wish it, through the power of vote. The three branches of the government were designed to have equal power with internal oversight, and the press guaranteed to be free so that if any government branch or official did something underhanded it would be public knowledge. But the constitution only works if people pay attention and participate.
So here we are, the Fourth of July. I want to thank our men and women in the military who put themselves in harm’s way to protect America, whether as it is or at least in the principle of the American way. As unhappy as I am with the current incarnation of our government, I’m still proud to be American for the belief in liberty and freedom on which it was originally founded.
Whether or not we agree with one another, we should all be proud to live in a nation where we are allowed to disagree although we should also be more tolerant and understanding of differing points of view in my opinion. This year let’s try to remember that. We’re all Americans, so for one day, just for one day, let’s just be Americans.