4th July

Photo: My alter ego, Team America Jon comes to save the day.

So, just in time for Independence Day to be over, my order for large US flags was fulfilled and I became the proud owner of one too many of them. I’ve now got 4 5×3 feet flags, one 3×2 and a giant cotton flag on order that I’ll pick up in the US next week. That’s not counting the original Star Spangled Banner t-shirt I ordered on cafepress over the weekend. Betsy Ross would be proud (and a little disturbed, I’ll reckon). There’s no particularly good reason for this, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. I don’t like to do such things in half measures.

The Declaration of Independence

“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, and to provide new Guards for their future security” — Declaration of Independence (backdated July 4th 1776).

Anyway, 230 years ago on Tuesday, 56 brave people signed a declaration that changed the world forever. In case you’re interested, five of them were later caught and died (read: brutally and horribly murdered for treason) at the hands of the British (it’s arguable whether they died specifically for signing it or just because the British didn’t think too kindly of them in a cup-of-tea? let’s all go to war fashion). These weren’t poor men either – amongst them were lawyers, farmers and other men of notable means. They knew their lives would never be the same, but they believed in something. In fact, they believed that they were morally obligated to effect positive change on the world around them because they were in a position to do so. And I think that’s amazing.

What the British did wrong

The full list of charges in the declaration against the British waste-of-time Monarch – George III – included some fantastic farces:

  • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.
  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

1776 was hardly the finest hour for the British and what’s most annoying to me is that we don’t learn in school about that history. In fact, few people in the UK can be aware of the true extent to which we were utterly evil and reprehensible in our actions (we burned the library of Congress in the War of 1812 too – so the British did know in history how to burn books). For if they did, it might get a little more attention in the media next 4th July. It’s not just an American holiday, it’s a reminder that we in the United Kingdom weren’t always whiter than white either.

And the point is

Learning about the history of the United States (trivia: did you know Texas was an independent nation for only 9 years?) makes me think differently about events that came later – for example the American aid in WWII that helped us out of a real jam. I now understand the isolationist viewpoint of the US in earlier times, though I’m glad the world of today is very much a more connected one. My point? For all the Republican right-wing crap of the modern day United States of America, it’s a great nation that’s done a lot of good in the world too.

In the future, I have no doubt that the United States will address a few of the efforts to undermine democracy in the modern age. Illegal spying and other government interference in due process that goes against all that the Founding Fathers believed in. That declaration of Independence was made 230 years ago this week, I think it’ll still be good in another 230 years – and no, neither this nor the constitution is “just a piece of paper”. No matter how hard Bush and elements of the Republican party try to destroy the values of these historical documents, they’ll still be there.


Update: I just ordered a copy of Common Sense and Rights of Man by Thomas Paine from Amazon. Common Sense is one of the books that kickstarted the American Revolutionary War and describes Britain in no uncertain terms for how it treated its North American colonies in the 18th century. Paine described the “royal brute of Britain” using language that appeals to me. And yes, I’m anti-unelected unrepresentational Monarchy. I think that’s pretty obvious. Monarchy is antiquated crap.

5 Responses to “4th July”

  1. Jon says:

    America wasn’t the only country the UK was less then nice too. And it wasn’t just the UK either. Since I moved to the UK it amazes me how little english people know about the negative side of their colonising past. I have never looked at the UK’s history curriculum but it would be interesting to see if it is only glossed over in the UK, or if it happens in other former colonial powers as-well.

    One thing that really does bug me is the way the British media seems to completely ignore everything that happens in Northern Ireland. When I want to see what is happening there I have to read an Irish newspaper or website. I can’t ever remember seeing decent BBC coverage of an event in Northern Ireland whereas RTE news seems to have at least one item on every news bulletin. Granted, I have only been in the UK for two years.


  2. Jaed says:

    Strange… For all those years you were so anti-American, and now look at you…!

  3. Kevin O'Donnely says:

    Mmm, nice to see 18th century propaganda is still having an effect. Jon, I don’t feel you’re qualified to make comments like these without even having read Common Sense – possibly the central text of the entire episode – which would suggest your research and knowledge is next to nothing.

    Don’t forget that most blacks were fighting on the British side in the War of Independence – and that America was still segregated until the late 1960s. Not exactly whiter than white, if you’ll excuse the pun, and that’s the recent history of an apparently civilised nation.

  4. jcm says:

    Let’s be clear on two points:

    * I’ve never been anti-American. I’m anti-US foreign policy, the Republican party and a lot of the obvious problems with modern day isolationism/lack of awareness about the wider world. But I’m not anti the founding principals nor what the country is supposed to stand for.

    * I am currently reading Common Sense (it’s available online too, you know…). Slavery was a giant blot on the whole Independence thing. In fact, an original draft of the US constitution called for it to be more or less abolished, but that didn’t happen. Some ideas just take a long time to really effect change – but eventually that did happen. I don’t think the UK really offered a system of equality until recent decades either.


  5. Jon says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I never claimed America, or any other nation for that matter, was perfect. And I dont remember mentioning anything about slavery. My point was merely that, the people I have met and talked to since I came to England, a lot of them very smart people, don’t seem to hve been thought a balanced view of England’s colonial past.

    And, like I said I am only here two years, but the BBC coverage of the situation in Northern Ireland is very poor compared to the coverage it receives in the Republic of Ireland.


    p.s. I haven’t read common sense. I didn’t think my response required that much research but I will read next.

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