Monday, July 2, 2012

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

The formal resolution declaring political independence from Great Britain had been submitted to the Continental Congress on June 7th by Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia. It read: “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 Monday, July 1, 1776, Lee’s resolution was debated by Congress. Throughout that day and into the evening the bold supporters of American independence, led by the eloquence of John Adams, a delegate from Massachusetts, argued for severing the colonies’ ties with their mother country, England. The opposition was led by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, and was supported primarily by delegates from New York and South Carolina.  Adams carried the day, and on Tuesday, July 2nd the solemn vote was taken in the affirmative.  Acknowledging that the delegates were in fact committing treason against the King of England, Benjamin Franklin remarked: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”[1]  

On the day the Declaration was actually signed by all of the delegates (August 2, 1776), they pondered the gravity of their act. Thirty five years later, Benjamin Rush recounted this fact to John Adams: “… scarcely a word was said of the solicitude and labors and fears and sorrows and sleepless nights of the men who projected, proposed, defended, and subscribed the Declaration of Independence. … Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants? . . ."[2] What had finally moved these men to pass this dangerous accord?  In the same letter, Benjamin Rush also asked Adams. “Do you recollect your memorable speech upon the day on which the vote was taken?”  According to Daniel Webster, on the day of the great debate before the vote was taken in Congress, John Adams (who was not known as a great orator), stood and eloquently declared:

Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my heart and hand to this vote.  It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we aimed not at independence.  But there's a Divinity which shapes our ends. . . . Why then should we defer the Declaration? . . . You and I, indeed, may rue it.  We may not live to the time when this Declaration may be made good.  We may die; die colonists, die slaves; die it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold.  Be it so, be it so.  If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready. . . . But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.

But whatever may be our fate, be assured . . . that this Declaration will stand.  It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood; but it will stand, and it will richly compensate for both.  Through the thick and gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future, as the sun in heaven.  We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day.   When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires and illuminations.  On its annual return they will shed tears, copious, gushing tears, not of subjection or of slavery, not of agony and distress, but of exultation, of gratitude, of joy.  Sir, before God, I believe the hour is come.  My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I begun, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration.  It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment, Independence, now, and Independence for ever![3]

The delegates passed the resolution.  Late that same night, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail with respect to the events of that day:  “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”[4]  On the morning of July 5th, copies of the Declaration were dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops.

On Monday, July 8, 1776, the first public reading of the newly printed Declaration (one of two hundred John Dunlap broadsides) was celebrated and church bells were rung throughout Philadelphia.  At that time, the Liberty Bell hung in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House.  It was commissioned from the London firm of Lester & Pack in 1752, and was cast with an inscription from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto the habitants thereof.”  While there is no contemporary account of the Liberty Bell ringing, most historians believe it was one of the bells rung that day.   On July 9th, General George Washington, who was then stationed in Brooklyn Heights with the Continental Army in preparation for the Battle of New York, had several brigades drawn up at 6:00 p.m. in the evening to hear it read aloud.[5]  Its enduring words still ring familiar and true in our day.

           The Declaration of Independence stands as a timeless statement of human liberty, rights and equalityThe signers of the Declaration pledged to it their “lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.”  Jefferson said, “The Declaration of Independence... [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and of the rights of man.”[6]  The Declaration is America's first and foremost founding document.  It sets forth our understanding of human rights based upon the principles of natural law, and the legitimate authority and purpose of government. It is, as Abraham Lincoln wrote, the "apple of gold in the frame of silver..." (Proverbs 25:11).

[1] Ben Franklin Laughing, P. M. Zall, ed., (University of California Press,1980), p. 154.
[2] Letter of Benjamin Rush to John Adams, July 20, 1811 (reflecting on the July 4th celebration that year).
[3] The Works of Daniel Webster, 4th ed. (Boston, 1851), 1:133–36.
[4] John Adams to Abigail Adams, The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, (Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 142.
[5] Malone, et. al. The Story of the Declaration of Independence, p. 82.
[6] Jefferson to Samuel Adams Wells, 1819, ME 15:200.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Liberty Affords the Path to Happiness

"[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness."  George Washington

The "pursuit of happiness" is the third "unalienable right" set forth in the Declaration of Independence in connection with "life" and "liberty."  Webster's dictionary defines "happiness" as a state of well being and contentment.  While each individual may describe happiness differently, most all will agree that happiness is the object of existence.  In this regard, John Adams wrote that: "[H]appiness of society is the end of government."  Thus, liberty is the means and happiness is its end.  Without liberty, no person or society can be truly happy.  Locke, in his Essay the True End of Civil Government, quotes Dragonetti on Virtue and Rewards, stating: "The science of the politician consists in fixing the true point of happiness and freedom.  Those men would deserve the gratitude of ages, who should discover a mode of government that contained the greatest sum of individual happiness, with the least national expense."  This, then is the great dilemma for citizens, representatives and leaders in all ages: how do we efficiently augment the well being and contentment of society, i.e., maximize societal happiness?  Endless social programs have been devised, enacted and administered to this end.  While there is no single solution or easy answer to all social ills, there is a formula proven in nature: "For whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap" (Galatians 6:7)  In other words, being free to sow what we will, if we sow good seed, and so labor, we shall reap good fruit.  Individually and collectively we together bear and reap the harvest of the opportunities and privileges provided us through liberty's vale.  Thus, wisdom and virtue must fashion each seed sown by government.  

Thomas Jefferson said: "[W]hat more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? . . . a wise and frugal government . . . which shall leave [men] free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. . . . We must make our choice between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude.  . . . If we can prevent government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, the people will be happy."  As revered in our past, industry, thrift and self-reliance  must be upheld as crowning attributes to each generation.  Thoreau said: "This government never of itself furthered any enterprise . . . [t]he character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished."  There were no "social programs" for the pilgrims or pioneers.  Happiness is garnered by self, not granted by government.

The unalienable rights of "liberty" and "the pursuit of happiness" are truly co-dependent.  Liberty provides an unfettered path in life to choose happiness or its counterfeits.  These individual and collective choices effectually serve to either bless and benefit, or curse and hinder, each of us, our society, and our posterity.  An ancient proverb states: "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." (Proverbs 14:34). The choice and decision is ours.  Thus, while the possession of liberty itself cannot guarantee happiness, it alone affords us the full opportunity in life for its pursuit.

"[T]he form of government which communicates … happiness to the greatest number of persons, in the greatest degree, is the best.” John Adams

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alexander Hamilton and Slavery

“Alexander Hamilton, original federalist and founding father of the U.S. Constitution ...remains perhaps the most underestimated constitutional founder in American history. Few people truly understand the unprecedented legacy of this prominent, passionate patriotic hero. Indeed, his conspicuous contributions to American democracy became overshadowed by the equally prodigious Thomas Jefferson. Yet, his direct ideological influence upon the venerable virtues of American constitutionalism sustains unsurpassed significance…

Alexander Hamilton considered charity an indispensable priority. As a preeminent proponent of freedom, Hamilton promoted altruistic initiatives designed to ameliorate conditions for his fellow American brethren, and most particularly targeted destitute, downtrodden classes lacking equal opportunity. He references profound dedication to philanthropic interests through his abundant record of active civic engagement, establishing institutions that foster racial equality.

While slavery encompassed all races, it predominantly constituted Blacks. After all, slavery remained a pervasive problem during Hamilton's era of political prominence. For example, in 1785, Hamilton collaborated with others under his leadership to consolidate the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves (Scanlon, 17).

Hamilton staunchly sought emancipation, and envisioned the inevitable termination of slavery during an era that condoned its virulent institution. Slavery became a polarizing issue that severely divided America during its infancy.

The dehumanizing institution and heinous hypocrisy surrounding slavery seemed unconscionable to Alexander Hamilton, as someone who championed individual liberty, inalienable rights of man, and freedom from personal oppression. Indeed, Hamilton advocated, "the abolition of Negro slavery," a measure which many Southern plantation owners considered probably "the most daring property invasions ever made," at that time (Miller, 122).

Therefore, recognizing the barbarous treatment of slaves, perceived as nothing more than mere property, Hamilton sought extensive social reform, specifically, substantial philanthropic initiatives that minimized slavery and provided emancipation. He continued these charitable interests throughout his life.”[1]

An alternative view: Michelle DuRoss, “Somewhere in Between: Alexander Hamilton and Slavery”

[1] From Michael Staib “Alexander Hamilton: Architect of American Capitalism” (Apr 27, 2009)
1. Scanlon, Laura Wolff, "Alexander Hamilton, The Man Who Modernized Money" Humanities, Jan/Feb 2006, Vol. 27 Issue 1, p16-19, 4p.
2. Miller, John C., Alexander Hamilton and the Growth of the New Nation (The University Library, Harper and Row Publishers, 1959).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

“In Flanders Fields”

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army

“Memorial Day, originally called 'Decoration Day,' is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day… Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war)." In 1971, the U.S. Congress passed the National Holiday Act moving Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. It is now celebrated in almost every State, honoring all Americans who have given their lives in the course of all wars.
Photo: Tyne Cot Cemetery in Flanders Fields, Belgium

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Courtship of James & Dolley Madison

“Dolley [Payne Todd] had been widowed less than a year when she first met James [Madison].  Like others living in Philadelphia at the time the Widow Todd caught Madison’s attention.  She was a beautiful woman at five foot seven and three quarters, “well-proportioned” with ample bust and slim waist, and a “mouth which was beautiful in shape and expression” and she had male Philadelphia “in the Pouts.”  (p. 27) Madison at forty-three was seventeen years older than Dolley [and at five foot four, was three inches shorter] when he asked his friend and fellow Princeton classmate Aaron Burr for an introduction.  Family legend has it that Dolley received the “great little Madison” in a mulberry-colored satin gown; but no matter what she wore she captured the heart of the shy, bookish, bachelor.  It was said that James was smitten with Dolley and “embarked upon a campaign worthy of a master political strategist” to win her over.  James also had some help from Martha Washington who allegedly informed Dolley of her wisdom of making this match.  

While James was captivated with Dolley, understandingly, “Dolley seems to have been more accepting than rapturous.  It would be the second marriage in her short life, and although remarriage was acceptable, John Todd had been gone less than a year and such a hasty remarriage was certain to shock many and was against Quaker practice.  In addition, James was an Anglican and not a Quaker and marriage to him would most likely lead to her being “read out” of Meeting.  James did have a sterling character, but not perhaps sexual charisma (he was famously frail and suffered life-long illness), but “Dolley no doubt took a practical view of the situation and realized that romance played a very small part, for as a woman she was a nobody unless she married.  If she married James, she would acquire financial security, a legal protector and social position.”  (p. 31-32)  James and Dolley were married on September 15, 1794 on the wedding anniversary of James’ parents at Harewood, the Virginia estate of Dolley’s sister Lucy and her husband, George Steptoe Washington.

Dolley was read indeed read out of Meeting in December.  Dolley and James made a good match and enjoyed a compatibility of character, and had a great deal in common including their southern background.  Her gracious high spirits compensated for James retiring manner.  Their marriage was one of love, respect, and great tenderness and a great partnership.  “While Dolley’s gender prevented her from openly playing politics, the very constraints of womanhood allowed her to construct an American ruling style and to achieve her husband’s political goals.  She did so by emphasizing cooperation over coercion, building bridges instead of bunkers.”
From:  Catherine Allgor, A Perfect Union, Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (Henry Holt & Company, 2006)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Romance of John and Abigail Adams

“John Adams, a 24-year-old lawyer in Braintree, Massachusetts, first met the teenage Abigail Smith in the summer of 1759 at her father’s home in Weymouth. John’s initial impressions were less than complimentary: “Not fond, not frank, not candid” was the overall assessment in his diary. But from these inauspicious beginnings a romance developed that would sustain this most famous of American couples through fifty years of marriage, five children (three of whom they outlived), multiple homes in numerous cities and towns across three countries and two continents, lengthy separations, and all the rigors of eighteenth-century life—not to mention a revolution, wars, and a wide array of political and diplomatic crises.

What we know of John and Abigail’s relationship stems largely from the letters they wrote to one another, of which some 1,160 have survived to the present day. Their earliest extant note, written from John to Abigail in October 1762, shows just how much had changed between them in the three short years since they first met. “Miss Adorable,” John wrote. “By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account.” In time their flirtatious correspondence evolved to reflect a deeper, more abiding relationship, but they never lost what Abigail described as “that unabated affection which has for years past, and will whilst the vital spark lasts, burn in the Bosom of your affectionate A Adams.”

Along with that affection and intimacy, Abigail and John proved to be kindred spirits, with shared interests in and a common outlook on the world around them. Abigail had never received a formal education, but her access to some of the finest libraries in Massachusetts and her voracious love of reading gave her a wide-ranging knowledge that allowed her easily to serve as John’s equal in any intellectual debate. Her place as John’s primary political advisor was merely a logical extension of her role as wife and manager of their household in a partnership of equals.

Their letters not only reflected this emotional and intellectual interdependence; they also became symbols of it.” 
(Margaret A. Hogan is Managing Editor of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society and Coeditor with C. James Taylor of  "My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams"

 This tender letter was written by Abigail to John after eighteen years of marriage:

My Dearest Friend,

…should I draw you the picture of my Heart, it would be what I hope you still would Love; tho it contained nothing new; the early possession you obtained there; and the absolute power you have ever maintained over it; leaves not the smallest space unoccupied. I look back to the early days of our acquaintance; and Friendship, as to the days of Love and Innocence; and with an indescribable pleasure I have seen near a score of years roll over our Heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time -- nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the Image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my Heart...

(December 23, 1782)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Benjamin Franklin and Religious Tolerance

“[Benjamin Franklin] ended up in Philadelphia, a place unlike much of the world. There were Lutherans and Moravians and Quakers and even Jews, as well as Calvinists, living side by side in what became known as the City of Brotherly Love. Franklin helped formulate the creed that they would all be better off, personally and economically, if they embraced an attitude of tolerance.

Franklin believed in God and in the social usefulness of religion, but he did not subscribe to any particular sectarian doctrine. This led him to help raise money to build a new hall in Philadelphia that was, as he put it, "expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something." He added, "Even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."

He also wrote parodies that poked fun at Puritan intolerance. In one of them, called "A Witch Trial at Mount Holly," a couple of accused witches were subjected to two tests: weighed on a scale against the Bible, and tossed in the river with hands and feet bound to see if they floated. They agreed to submit--on the condition that two of the accusers take the same test. With colorful details of all the pomp, Franklin described the process. The accused and accusers all succeed in outweighing the Bible. But both of the accused and one of the accusers fail to sink in the river, thus indicating that they are witches. The more intelligent spectators conclude that most people naturally float. The others are not so sure and resolve to wait until summer when the experiment could be tried with the subjects unclothed.

Franklin's freethinking unnerved his family. When his parents wrote of their concern over his "erroneous opinions," Franklin replied with a letter that spelled out a religious philosophy based on tolerance that would last his life. It would be vain for any person to insist that "all the doctrines he holds are true and all he rejects are false." The same could be said of the opinions of different religions. He had little use for the doctrinal distinctions his mother worried about. "I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. And the Scripture assures me that at the last day we shall not be examined by what we thought, but what we did ... that we did good to our fellow creatures…"

By the end of his life, he had contributed to the building funds of each and every sect in Philadelphia, including £5 for the Congregation Mikveh Israel for its new synagogue in April 1788. During the July 4 celebrations that year, he was too sick to leave his bed, but the parade marched under his window. For the first time, as per arrangements that Franklin had overseen, "the clergy of different Christian denominations, with the rabbi of the Jews, walked arm in arm."

And when he was carried to his grave two years later, his casket was accompanied by all the clergymen of the city, every one of them, of every faith.” 

--Walter Isaacson, Citizen Ben’s 7 Great Virtues (Time Magazine, July 7, 2003)