Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Paradox Of Liberty

"We hold these truths to be self-evident,

that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,

that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

* * * * *

On July 4, 1776, a group of white men who were good and fed up with King George III's leadership from across the pond sat down and signed a statement declaring their intention to go their own way. The opening sentences of that document, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and edited by a committee of founding fathers, lay out the rights of "men." But what exactly was their meaning? Did the authors  use that word interchangeably with "humanity,' including men and women of all colors, or did they intend to more narrowly describe only white men who owned property?

We are left to wonder. The Declaration of Independence makes no specific mention of the rights of black men. Or women of any color. Or Native Americans. What a terrible paradox that led these statesmen to defend the aching human need for liberty but stop short of overtly recognizing it as a gift for all.

This paradox, my friends, should not be news to us. It shouldn't take us a Black Lives Matter intervention to get familiar with the history of our own country. If you'd like to brush up on the basics, let me recommend The History of US, a highly-respected and award-winning series considered an attractive alternative to basic textbooks. The issues of slavery and racism wind through most of the ten volumes in the series, and give the reader a broad perspective of how they have shaped American life. 

Does this mean, then, as I've seen a dozen memes imply, that Independence Day no longer holds moral significance for newly woke generations? That Juneteenth is the only true day of independence that matters? That we should kick this empty, rusted-out tin can of a holiday on down the road and onto a scrap heap of rotting ideas about white supremacy and systemic racism?

That, my friends, would entirely miss the point. 

Our founding fathers wrestled with the morality of slavery. Some, like Jefferson, understood that slavery was a deeply divisive issue with the terrible power to tear asunder the newly forming nation. Their compromise in writing the Declaration of Independence, and fully realized in the creation of the Constitution nine years later, was to leave the divisive issue of slavery off the table, to sidestep the issues of black rights whenever possible, to pay forward the terrible debt of this paradox for future generations to resolve. 

Americans ever since have wrestled to make things right. 

And we now find ourselves as a part of that struggle. We are called to advance the cause of freedom, to ensure that all of humanity - especially our black brothers and sisters who still suffer systemic oppression - are truly free.

Independence Day calls us all to the challenge of freedom, to right the wrongs of the past, to bring us back to the task that our forefathers didn't know how to resolve. 

Maybe we are the people who will finally solve the paradox of liberty. 

The very least we can do is try. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment...I'd love to hear from you!