This 4th of July
It's easy to be patriotic. It's just as easy to convict the founding fathers as reprehensible hypocrites, who could only start their revolution because they owned people.
But the words that Thomas Jefferson published on July 4th, 1776 have since been used to dismantle many of the injustices that America was founded on.
The idea that being a human meant you deserved liberty, equality and the ability to pursue happiness was itself revolutionary, and while it was restricted to white landowning men, these concepts have permeated the collective mind of humankind and have achieved the status of self-evident.
Take the words, not the people, and glorify them.
The role of the Declaration of Independence in the abolitionist movement was key in exposing the grotesque hypocrisy infused in American society. Frederick Douglass used the famous document against its own creation in a sensational 4th of July speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"
Douglass congratulated the audience on the nation's independence, and said they should celebrate it.
"Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory."
They broke their chains. Now, Douglass said, enslaved blacks had to break theirs.
"I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?"
He used the fact that America remained so fundamentally oppressive while claiming to guarantee freedoms and equality to his advantage in articulating and shaming the country for its great crime.
"Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?"
Many revolutionaries after Douglass also used the Declaration to break the chains and unmask the fraud that it was. On July 4th, 1876, Susan B. Anthony presented her "Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States."
"And now, at the close of a hundred years, as the hour hand of the great clock that marks the centuries points to 1876, we declare our faith in the principles of self-government; our full equality with man in natural rights; that woman was made first for her own happiness, with the absolute right to herself – to all the opportunities and advantages life affords to her complete development; and we deny that dogma of centuries, incorporated into the codes of nations – that woman was made for man – her best interests, in all cases, to be sacrificed to his will. We ask our rulers, at this hour, no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation. We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever."
In 1945, Ho Chi Minh, the anti-colonialist known for winning independence from France, established the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.
The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: “All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.”
Those are undeniable truths.
Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice."
Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights, one of the first gay rights organizations. It included the Declaration in part of its mission.
"To promote and protect the interests of people who by reasons of mental and physical abnormalities are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness which is guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence."
Condemning America is easy; its criminal flaws and foundation based on the enslavement of one race and genocide of another is apparent. But the principles espoused in the Declaration guided countless political movements that achieved justice.
Ignoring America's problems would be a mistake. But the Declaration can serve as a blueprint for attaining a more just society.
Enacting healthcare for all, guaranteeing a living wage, ending our imperial foreign policy, and eradicating a system of mass incarceration can allow Americans to live with liberty in pursuit of happiness.
The Declaration will be the key to political revolutions throughout the world. Celebrate that.