By Danny Schechter
New York, New York: The wheel of the calendar has turned again, and July 4th is upon us once again, a day for the consumption of 155 million pounds of hot dogs, and fireworks--75% of the pyro technics industry's revenues ignite in an average 1400 displays on the federal holiday marking the anniversary of American Independence.
Patriotric rituals r' often us, although, never mind, that American celebrations only began after the war of 1812, and that it took quite a while for London to even respond to our declaration.
Quiet as its kept, actual independence only arrived on September, 3, 1783 when Great Britain formally abandoned its claims to its colonies and signed the Treaty of Paris.
Recall also that one of the pledges in the document of documents was a "Decent Respect for The Opinions of Mankind," a vow undercut somewhat by a ruling by an appointed intelligence advisory body this past week--based on who knows what legal foundation--that US Spying on mankind is now and forevermore "legal" under our constitution.
Record this fact, too, that July 4th only became a holiday on June 28, 1870, a decision promulgated in the aftermath of our bloody civil war to encourage some semblance of unity in a still divided nation.
Back in '76, the independence war has been on for a year before the often feuding and disunited politicians of the day decided a declaration was needed. It followed from a resolution by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia that began: "Resolved: 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, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
Even as Tom Jefferson drafted the words for the document, there was discordant music in the background. In the end, of the 13 colonies, nine voted yes, two -- Pennsylvania and South Carolina -- voted No. Delaware was undecided and New York abstained.
And so, it was on this basis, that the "United" States decided proclaim itself.
Of all the oratory and debate that on "our" independence, nothing in the literature surpasses the speech by abolitionist, editor and former slave, Frederick Douglass, whose oration about July 4th deserves to be much better known.
His famous speech has the title, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" It was delivered on July 5, 1852, eight years before the eruption of the war against the Confederacy's secession from the union.
Douglass began slowly:
"Who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning".
The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way"The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable -- and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.