Frederick Douglas on the hypocrisy of July 4

In spite of the warrantless phone tapping, the daily drone strikes, and the fact that wealth is rapidly concentrating in the hands of just a few, I actually love America. For all of its flaws, I think we’ve created something truly unique and beautiful here… something worth fighting for. It’s an extremely fragile thing, this nation of ours, and I don’t know how long we’ll be able to manage it, for generations, America has been a beacon for fairness and equality, and I truly appreciate that. And I’m happy to have been given an opportunity to raise my family here. We may not always live up to the promise, but, for the most part, we do the right thing when it matters, and we continue to move forward. With that said, though, I’m not terribly keen on blind patriotism, and the belief that we were somehow singled out by god for greatness.

What we’ve been able to achieve isn’t thanks to god having chosen us. It’s thanks to the men who risked their lives to sign the Declaration of Independence. It’s thanks to the suffragettes who went on hunger strikes to secure the vote for women. It’s thanks to the young black men and women who sat down at segregated lunch counters and refused to leave. And it’s thanks to the millions who gave up everything they had in other countries in order to come here and be a part of this great American experiment.

I’m reminded of a comment made several years ago by historian Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States. “On this July 4,” he said, “we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.”

The belief that your country is somehow inherently better than every other country on the globe is dangerous, and it’s a disservice to all those great Americans who gave their lives to ensure that we remain a representative democracy dedicated to equality and the protection of individual rights. A true patriot, in my opinion, is someone who is constantly questioning his country, and demanding that we stay true to the belief that all men are created equal, not just the person waving the biggest flag.

And, it’s with that in mind, that I pass along the following quote from abolitionist Frederick Douglass, spoken 152 years ago today, on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York.

frederickdouglas“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Those, to me, are the words of a true patriot.

And today, as we celebrate our nation’s founding, this is why I’m thinking of the men and women fighting to get the money out of politics and end corporate personhood more than I am about parades, flags and fireworks.

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14 Comments

  1. stripes
    Posted July 6, 2014 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Hi Mark.

    I like our blip in history, too. Especially, this part:

    1. “…we stay true to belief that all men are created equal.”

    I like the “all” and “equal” parts best.

    “Men…” I read this as “humans.” Of course, the writers might have thought of “men” exclusively as wealthy whites with certain genitals…but I like the attempt at broadening the “all…”

    “Are created….” this is pre-Darwin, perhaps they would have later said, “who exist…” But one wonders how their belief in creation shaped their thinking … it must have.

    “Equal.” That’s what I love. Every human who exists is equal. “All are equal.” That’s the stuff.

    It’s a religious or philosophic statement though. It’s not scientific. Clearly, no one is born physically/mentally “equal” to the all of everyone else. Equal can’t mean the measurable stuff of science, it has to be a value statement of inherent equality (the stuff of religion/philosophy).

    “The belief that your country is somehow inherently better than every other country on the globe is dangerous.”

    Yes, it is. Which is why we need to meditate on “all.” That’s a big statement. “All.”

    “What we’ve been able to achieve isn’t thanks to god.”

    I would say a lot of what we’ve “achieved,” as a nation, shouldn’t be thanked anywhere in history books. There’s a lot our country has done/is doing that should not be thanked. But the more positive things you mentioned, were largely accomplished, if not by “god,” by people who believed in God.

    As the wiki link to Douglas says:

    “I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light, and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially, did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.”

    We might be past thanking God for our country … but thank god for people who came up with the absurd ideals of the god. That organisms evolve equally! And, (snicker … can hold truths!).

  2. stripes
    Posted July 6, 2014 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    It’s as if this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08rlDmVhkSc

    Was somehow divorced, or intellectually distanced, from standing up for freedom and equality.

    Mine eyes have seen the glory, of the coming … of?

    “All … equal.”

    All equal.

    All, every person, in every nation … equal.

    All equal.

    All equal.

    All equal.

    It’s ridiculous. From where does it come from?

  3. Eel
    Posted July 6, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Surely an escaped slave who points out the hypocrisy of his nation is less of a patriot than a guy in a monster truck with an American flag belt buckle large enough to serve a Thanksgiving turkey on.

  4. Posted July 6, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Absolutely, Stripes. The actions of a great many Americans were informed by strong religious faith. That’s a fact that should not be forgotten. What I object to, however, is the notion that god singled out America for greatness. What we’d accomplished is not because god is smiling upon us. It’s because a great many men and women made incredible sacrifices in the interest of the greater good.

  5. John Galt
    Posted July 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re confusing the terms patriot and terrorist.

  6. EOS
    Posted July 6, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Yes, all men are created equal. They are equal in God’s sight, whether male or female, slave or free. This country was founded by men who believed in God and that our rights are inalienable. Our rights are inherent because they are God-given. They formed a government to secure those rights. Our government does not grant us any rights nor does it have the power to do so. If you love this country, then thank God. Everything you have is a gift from God. Our founding fathers prayed collectively to start each day’s discussions about what type of government we should have. They asked for God’s blessings and His providence. If you don’t appreciate our country’s greatness now, you will soon, as 350 million poor, non-english speaking, low skilled illegal immigrants devastate our infrastructure and decimate the financial underpinnings of our safety net and social welfare programs. This is a calculated plan to destroy the few freedoms and sparse opportunities that are left. A New World Order where the masses are in a constant struggle for existence and the police keep control with powerful military armaments.

  7. stripes
    Posted July 6, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I agree that God did not single out. We’re close friends on this point.

    I’m currently interested in is defining “the greater good” and whether sacrifices should be made to guard it and at what costs?

    What is the greater good?

    A standard of living or a moral value system or equality and love and such imposed by a god-like character?

    What’s the greater good? Where does it come from?

  8. Grumpy
    Posted July 7, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    EOS, thanks for warning of the imminent threat of 350 million illegal immigrants who speak the non-english language! Where will they be coming from? Will the entire population of South America abandon that continent for the US or is it just half of the population of South America and the whole population of Mexico? Please enlighten us.

  9. wobblie
    Posted July 7, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    What I particularly like about EOS’s comments, is the setting up illegal immigrants as the scape goat for all that ails the good old USA. We can’t scape goat folks because of color, sex or religion anymore, but we still have all those evil illegal aliens who are part of some one’s (EOS doesn’t tell us who) calculated plan to destroy the few freedoms we have left.

    I have always thought that words have meaning and “all” does mean all. All the litigation and social strive we have had these last many years, would have been avoided if we had passed the Equal Rights Amendment which would have made it unambiguous that “men” had been amended to include the other half of the population and that “all” applied to all. At the time it failed (the only proposed amendment to with a sunset provision attached) people predicted that the road to equality would have to be through the legislatures and the courts. The current set back with SCOTUS will be reversed over time by our legislatures. Time is on the side of progress.

  10. Mr. Y
    Posted July 7, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    You are becoming a parody of yourself, EOS.

  11. John Galt
    Posted July 7, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Douglas doesn’t mention all the free food and lodging he received as a slave, or the all expenses paid trip his ancestors got from Africa. Typical.

  12. Lynne
    Posted July 7, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    “Our government does not grant us any rights nor does it have the power to do so.”

    Nope. Rights are an entirely man made concept and as such there is no such thing as rights other than those which we decide collectively to give each other. I thank every person who has sacrificed in order to force our government to grant me and others rights.

    I do find it interesting though that someone who apparently believes that we have God given rights which are merely secured by the government would be so adamant about keeping such people out of our country. If rights are actually derived from some sort of God, wouldnt these immigrants be equally entitled to them here in the USA as we are?

  13. Lynne
    Posted July 7, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I’ve always loved what Harper Lee had to say about it:

    “Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the government is fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use that phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. We know that all men are not created equal in the sense that some people would have us believe. Some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they are born with it, some men have more money than others, and some people are more gifted than others.
    But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal. An institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the ignorant man the equal of any president, and the stupid man the equal of Einstein. That institution is the court. But a court is only as sound as its jury, and the jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.”

    [I might also point out that in the case of other courts, the court is only as sound as the judge or judges. We need only look at our current supreme court to see how this applies]

  14. Posted July 7, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    If you really want to affirm the US as English only, it might help to change some place names. Michigan, for example, is a Chippewa word. And Ypsilanti, of course, is Greek.

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