Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

About eight years prior to the start of the Civil War (and about eight years after Joseph Smith ran for President of the United States with an anti-slavery plank included in his platform), Frederick Douglass, gave an important, prescient, insightful and – in the face of the horrors of slavery – hope-filled Fourth of July speech in Rochester, NY.

Please see below excerpts from the speech having to do with the meaning of the Founders and the Fourth of July, and the fact that the principles in the Founding Documents were antithetical to slavery.

Enjoy your Fourth of July celebration. [Emphasis and subheadings added my me.]

HOPE AND CONSOLATION THAT AMERICA IS YOUNG

[This] is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. . . . I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. . . . According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. . . . Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations. . . .

SAVING PRINCIPLES

The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history . . . . The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost. . . . 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. . . . 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 loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. . . .

STATESMANSHIP BEYOND THE PASSING MOMENT, INTO THE DISTANT FUTURE

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. . . . Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times. How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!

FOUNDING FATHERS LAY DEEP THE CORNER-STONE OF THE NATIONAL SUPERSTRUCTURE

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while … a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion -- one of thrilling and universal interests . . . .

THE CONSTITUTION IS ENTIRELY HOSTILE TO THE EXISTENCE OF SLAVERY

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. . . . Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I DO NOT DESPAIR: THE DOOM OF SLAVERY IS CERTAIN

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work The downfall of slavery. "The arm of the Lord is not shortened," and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. . . .

(Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”)

#

See also below two observations by Joseph Smith on the Declaration of Independence and slavery.

“My cogitations…have for a long time troubled me, when I viewed the condition of men throughout the world, and more especially in this boasted realm, where the Declaration of Independence ‘holds 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;’ but at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, [only] because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours.” (History of the Church, Vol.6, Ch.8, p.197 - p.198)

In March 1842, Joseph studied some abolitionist literature, and stated, “It makes my blood boil within me to reflect upon the injustice, cruelty, and oppression of the rulers of the people. When will these things cease to be, and the Constitution and the laws again bear rule?” (History of the Church, 4:544).
#

There is a movement across the nation to read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July this year. Here are pertinent parts for your use [again, emphasis added by me]:

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

A — Unanimous Declaration
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 B — All men are Created Equal; Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness
 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. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

  C — Abolishing the Forms
  Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

   D — Their Right; Their Duty
   But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government,

    E — Future Security
    and to provide new Guards for their future security.

     F — Patient Sufferance
     Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. [List of Grievances]

A’ — Publish and Declare
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare.

 B’ — Free and Independent States
 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,

  C’ — Political Connection . . . Totally Dissolved
  and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved;

   D’ — Full Power; May of Right Do
   and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

    E’ — Protection of Divine Providence
    And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,

     F’ — Our Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor
     we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor. [List of Names]

#

Summary outline
A — Unanimous Declaration
 B — All men are Created Equal; Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

  C — Abolishing the Forms
   D — Their Right; Their Duty

    E — Future Security
     F — Patient Sufferance

A’ — Publish and Declare
 B’ — Free and Independent States

  C’ — Political Connection . . . Totally Dissolved
   D’ — Full Power; May of Right Do

    E’ — Protection of Divine Providence
     F’ — Our Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor

# # #

No comments: