Monday, April 20, 2015

I is for Independence

I think today's post might be the most explicitly political of my A-to-Z series, but since the topic is about 240 years old, I don't anticipate it stoking up much heated partisan argument....

It may be naive American parochialism, but I have an unabashed love of the Declaration of Independence.  Although it's been drilled into the minds of schoolchildren for centuries, it's still very much a fiery manifesto.  Have we always upheld its words?
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.
No, but our own failures should not detract from the worthiness of the ideal.  The original abuses that led to rebellion and revolution were laid out "to a candid world" in the Declaration, and capped with an air-tight conclusion,
A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Although on the face of it this conclusion may not be controversial, it's the application that's tricky.  What happens when some people think the situation applies, and others don't?

Thomas Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration in June of 1776, and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia proceeded to do lots of editing by committee.  That's not usually a good thing.  However, it did prune away some of his more flowery flourishes (like shouting "our everlasting Adieu! eternal separation!" to Great Britain).  Unfortunately, the need for compromise between all 13 colonies also pruned away Jefferson's strong language against slavery.

My own connection to the events of July 4, 1776 is inevitably tangled up with the celebration of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.  For those of you who weren't alive or old enough to know, the bicentennial was everywhere.  As a 9 year old kid, I couldn't help but get swept up in it.  Around that time I grew to love the musical 1776, which attempted to tell the story of the drafting and adoption of the Declaration as accurately as possible... with people breaking into song and dance for no reason.

Whovians will know that Ben Franklin there was the narrator of Tom Baker's imported adventures on PBS

Being that the bicentennial was also taking place within a decade of the Apollo moon landings, the patriotic imagery kind of got mixed up a bit.  At times it seemed like we were we celebrating our ultimate independence... from the Earth's gravity!  :-)  Still, I loved the lunar-themed reverses of the silver dollars from that era...

And how could I forget the anthem of the time, written (ironically?) by two Brits for their American friend's newly formed tennis team?  I've always identified with the lyrics -- especially since I spent many of my formative years in Philadelphia itself.  The analogy between America's independence and the hard-won freedom of a lone young person, striking out into the world, has always been with me.

The whippoorwill of freedom


  1. As a fellow nine year old in 1976 (I turned 10 in November) I fell in love with 1776 at the same time.

    1. It's a lot of fun, isn't it? (Well, putting aside "Mama, Look Sharp" and that song about the triangle trade... but the latter was sung by Holling Vencour, so even that ended up being kind of charismatic and upbeat!)

  2. 'At times it seemed like we were we celebrating our ultimate independence... from the Earth's gravity!'

    Okay, soooo ... sublime? I'm goin' with sublime.

    1. No -- Space: 1999, which imagined the moon itself being freed from the Earth's pull, then galavanting around the cosmos having adventures -- that's sublime.