Posts Tagged ‘Declaration of Independence’

Liberty Enshrined

Everyone believes in something. Even agnostics and atheists believe in something. Some put blind faith in money, thinking it will make them happy. Some put blind faith in material possessions, because, well, *sparklies*. Some put blind faith in their political party or right-left-center talking points. Some put blind faith in celebrity, buying Bieber cologne or other ludicrous claptrap. Some put blind faith in themselves, being so arrogant as to think they are infallible and therefore beyond question. Some even put blind faith in science, as odd as that sounds, believing that any and all studies that cross their path must be true (this leads to a lot of fad diets as well as other errors).

Copyright America In Context

Liberty’s Shrine

In my own case, I tend to put blind faith in the American ideal. For folks like me, Independence Park in Philadelphia is the Temple Mount, the Ganges River, the Mecca of our own beliefs. It’s a place of extreme importance, a shrine commemorating the place where the founding principles of this country were put to paper and approved by an assemblage of great minds and strong characters. A place where heretofore un-codified principles were defined and written into law and principle, grandiose notions such as “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”; “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it”; or “[t]he privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it”. Fabulous ideas, amazing ideas, ideas that would inspire nation after nation to rebel against tyrants and kings and establish democracy. It’s the Great American Way that Independence Park symbolizes, the Great American Way that I hold most dear.


Folks are going to worship me someday, aren't they? :sigh:

“Folks are going to worship me someday, aren’t they? :sigh:”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, ideals aren’t real. They don’t exist, and you can’t count on them. If you do, you will be betrayed. Every time. The American Ideal is the same: it’s full of betrayal. The original Constitution says that certain people are only worth 3/5ths of other people, and also said that those in bondage who escape to another state must be returned into bondage. Basically, it protected the vile institution of slavery for nearly 100 years. Even today, long after that particular abomination was wiped out by amendment, there is betrayal. These documents have been subverted, abused and weakened, leaving a system of government so devolved it barely represents the will of the people at all, and our nation is in a fine ruddy mess because of it.

Then again, it’s still important to hold onto ideals. It’s vital, actually. They are the goal, the dream, the vision, and without our goals, dreams and visions, we are a dead species. And to keep goals, dreams and visions alive, it is important that kids be indoctrinated (for lack of a better word) with ideals that are truly valuable, else they, too, will grow up to be tyrants and monsters; and you can’t do any worse than indoctrinating them into the important American ideals of equality, liberty, self-governance, and independence.

And naked statuary, of course

And naked statuary, of course

There is also no better element of that indoctrination than a trip to Independence Park in Philadelphia. I really like Philadelphia for one simple reason: the park is dedicated not to rebellion (like Boston, with it’s homage to the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, and Paul Revere), nor to warfare (like Valley Forge or Yorktown), nor to marble monoliths (like Washington, DC) but to ideas, thought, consideration, and debate. It’s a site that contains meeting rooms, and convention halls, and judicial chambers;  not cannons, trenches, or cemeteries, but desks. It is a truly remarkable place in that aspect, it’s dedicated to ideas, and I find that refreshing.

But he's just sitting there! THINKING!

But he’s just sitting there! THINKING!

Liberty Imprisoned

I first visited Philadelphia in the 90’s. At that time, the Liberty Bell was in a non-descript glass enclosure inside Independence Hall. Anyone could see it. I never bought into Bell lore myself (like most American legends, it’s more tall tale than fact), but I kinda liked the presentation: subdued, no drama, viewable by everyone, kinda like I envision liberty itself. Freedom should not be a big deal, it should not be something we put on a pedestal. It should just “be”. You don’t pay attention to it when it’s there, you just live your life, yet everyone notices when it’s absent.

Then 9/11 happened, our liberties were sacrificed to the Lords of Fear, and The Liberty Bell became a symbol of our shift to madness.

In the grief-stricken days after 9/11, we were all expecting more terrorist attacks. We went bat-shit crazy protecting everything.  We improved airport security, then we “improved” airport security, then we began the systematic groin-groping known as the TSA. We started monitoring financial transactions, then started monitoring foreign communications, and now the NSA has a full-blown domestic spy program best suited for watching cheating spouses and stealing credit card numbers. We placed Jersey barriers in front of government buildings, we put metal detectors at the entry of every government building and landmark, and we built a prison for the Liberty Bell.

Liberty's Prison

Liberty’s Prison

On my second visit to Independence Park, I spotted the Liberty Bell Center, and it saddened me. The Liberty Bell is no longer just “there”, like our liberties should be. It is encased in a steel and glass structure, surrounded by guards and various security devices, reminiscent of a prison. It also, oddly, has the look of a high-end shopping mall, meaning not only is Liberty imprisoned but it’s also commercialized (they should call it Liberty Disney). I was so repulsed by the appearance of the Liberty Bell Center from afar, I didn’t have it in me to go there. Liberty was imprisoned and I didn’t want to be stuck on the outside, pressing my face against the glass in the hopes she’d remember me in her confinement.

I think the NPS has toned down the security in the intervening years, and I’ve heard from others that the Center is actually a pretty nice facility. But for me, the illusion has been shattered. The Liberty Bell, like the very civil liberties it represents, is not just cracked but contained, with an admission fee, groin groping, and gift shop.

[Photos on this blog entry are mine and thusly copyrighted.]



Independence National Historical Park

Founding Fathers Fetish (slate.com)

3D Tour of the Liberty Bell

Google Map of Independence National Historical Park

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A Difficult Birth

I watched HBO’s excellent mini-series “John Adams”, about the famed patriot and second President of the United States. As I posted waaaaay back in December of ’07, John Adams is my favorite Founding Father, and I think HBO did him justice, flaws and all. Beyond a fairly accurate portrayal of Adams himself (although I do think HBO downplayed the staunch religious beliefs shared by John and his cousin, Samuel Adams), the mini-series gave a very accurate portrayal of the nation’s gritty past.

John Adams

There’s this great mythology around the birth of this nation. We have this image, inspired by John Trumbull’s famous painting, of nattily-attired statesmen, gathered in a great hall, proudly proclaiming our independence for all the world to hear. Unfortunately, that image is not at all accurate. I won’t go into all the factual details here, sites like Americanrevolution.org describe them well enough. I do want to go into what our vaunted image, and even a nitpicking of the facts, does not convey, and that is how risky and dangerous, and messy and complicated, the birth of this nation really was.

This was such a dangerous endeavor that the members of the Continental Congress were rarely, if ever, all present at the same time. They would appear in shifts, as it were, with individual representatives of a colony present but almost never a full quorum of a delegation. Some of the notables, like the Adams cousins and William Ellery of Rhode Island, had open warrants for their arrest by the British colonial government long before the 2nd Continental Congress convened, and would certainly have been hanged if they were caught travelling to Philadelphia. Almost the entire New York delegation would be missing at times, most of those delegates lost home or property, and the wife of one (Francis Lewis) was captured and held prisoner by the Brits for many months during the Revolutionary War. This type of personal danger is almost never conveyed in American mythology.

John Trumbull Painting

There were also health and transportation problems. Yellow fever was not uncommon in Philadelphia in those years, and travel was risky. British blockades and privateers made sea travel dangerous, forcing travel over land. It took weeks if not months to ride the roads to Philadelphia, and in some circles families would weep from grief if loved ones had to travel, it was so dangerous. Remember this was the early days of America, cities were small and far apart, and there were great tracts of land void of civilization and comfort. It wasn’t the highly developed contryside that marked Europe in the 18th century, this was something far wilder. Getting all these great men to Philadelphia to draft the Declaration, create and fund a Continental Army, and plead for help from France and Spain was not an easy affair.

After the Revolution, things were still sloppy and complicated. There’s a sordid mess surrounding the crafting of the Constitution itself. Yes, it’s a beloved document and has served us well, but in reality, it was a contentious and difficult document to craft. The nation first had to go through the sloppy failure of the Articles of Confederation, a configuration so weak it nearly allowed the 13 states to break apart or, even worse, rejoin Great Britain. It was not easy to keep the Union together, and in the end, the only way to guarantee continued independence as well as undivided strength was by guaranteeing the continued enslavement of an entire race of man for decades thereafter.Constitution

People shouldn’t forget that our founding fathers enabled that greatest of travesties, but in a way, these men were forced to do so in order to avoid becoming servants again, through dissolution of the Union and potential reconquering by Britain.  I’m sure that last sentence can be debated: what if our founders banned slavery in 1787? Would we have been split into two, or perhaps more, nations? And would that have been a bad thing? It’s an interesting debate, but the fact still stands: slavery stood for 89 years after the Declaration of Independence  was first read to an assemblage in Philadelphia. All men created equal? Hardly, it would appear.

In my opinion, it’s vitally important for all Americans to understand that we are a flawed nation. We had a difficult birth and a flawed childhood and, to this very day, we struggle and wrestle and fight with our greater ideals and our conscience. We’ve fought unjust wars, we mistreated our own citizenry, we’ve “prospered” ourselves into great poverty, and we’ve poisoned our waters and air and land. But we’ve also had successes: we freed Europe from the ravages of war, our scientists have stopped polio and invented transistors, we’ve created unique and beloved forms of art and music, and we’ve been an example to the world in terms of freedom and liberty. Best of all, we’ve managed to survive and thrive in spite of our great mistakes and failures.Revolutionary War Collage

Success and failure, failure and success. Hmmm, sounds like we’re human. And part and parcel of being human is being flawed. It can be said that the greatness of a person can be judged by how well that person responds to his or her own failure. We all make mistakes, and we all have to learn from them and overcome them. This is true for people and true for nations. Those who think they themselves, or the United States of America itself, are incapable of making mistakes and deserve continuous adulation are not only inaccurate but incredibly arrogant.

It has always been my view that arrogance is the worst human characteristic. Arrogance, that belief that you can do no wrong and can make no mistake, is that characteristic that prevents you from ever learning anything. And the inability to learn guarantees an inability to succeed and thrive. It’s a flaw that guarantees stagnation and eventual irrelevance. Individuals should strive to never be arrogant in anything, even those things in which you are an expert. Nations should also strive to never be arrogant, even in areas in which that nation has succeeded in the past.

If I could ask all Americans to do anything for this country, I would ask them to be honest with our country’s flaws and failures, and strive to continuously improve the health, welfare, and integrity of this nation and all of its citizens. Only through understanding of our flaws can we ever improve our lot in life.Long May She Wave

I hope everyone had a happy, fun-filled Independence Day weekend, and I wish nothing more than a just and prosperous future for the United States of America on this, the 233rd anniversary of it’s birth.


I know I haven’t been posting regularly as of late. There have been a few real-life issues keeping my muse at bay, or perhaps in full retreat. Regular postings of my National Park trips will resume shortly, I promise.

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