Celebrating Independence

Celebrating Independence

July 5th, 2013
posted by

Yesterday (July 3rd) on a bus I overheard a person on their cell phone: “I’m not celebrating that! My ancestors were slaves, man, we didn’t get any kind of independence!” I relayed this perspective to a friend, and their response was: “yeah, not only the slaves, but very few people gained any real independence or freedom from the American Revolution; basically if you were a property owner who was paying taxes, those are the only people who were gaining anything.” This makes sense; the government soon established as the United States of America did not extend basic rights to the majority of people living there, so we may presume that those revolting from England and forming that new nation were a local elite, simply fighting with the elites in England over the profits of colonial production.

I went to have a new read of the Declaration of Independence, and found it just as beautiful as ever: in the succinct and elegant formulations of the essential equality and freedom of all people and the dependence of government on the will of the people rather than vice versa, the writing hits nary a wrong note, and gives no indication that anyone is not included in “all Men.” Perhaps it was just an understanding at the time that “all Men” meant all land-owning white males? Sometimes I use the word “man” to mean humankind without respect to gender in sentences where “human” or “mankind” does not fit well.

I thought I’d do a little investigation[1] into the signatories of the Declaration of Independence hoping thereby to illuminate whether this was a milestone to be celebrated or just another squabble among the ruling elites. Along with many fascinating and diverse lives, I found a couple overwhelming patterns. They were all white males, and pretty much all land-owners. Every one of them was involved in politics to some extent, but beyond that, the most common occupations were law (over 50%), followed by plantation-owner and merchant. So while the group included fast friends and bitter rivals, slave owners and a couple abolitionists, it is fair to say that it was an assemblage of the bourgeoisie of the day. If I had to guess, I would say they had both fine ideas and the economic interests of their friends and families in their minds as they put forward the revered Declaration. So to me this is still an event to study, before I decide whether or not to celebrate it. I also wonder if there are other days in U.S. history that we should be celebrating more.

Footnotes

  1. Thank you, Wikipedia! []

This entry was posted on Friday, July 5th, 2013 at 1:19 am and is filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Celebrating Independence”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Wow this is a very interesting point of view of July 4th Independence Day.

Leave a Reply