More familiar to me on the Fourth of July are the words Frederick Douglass delivered on this day in 1852 than those penned by our Founding Fathers.
Fellow citizens, pardon me, and 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?… 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.
While the words of the Declaration of Independence are filled with lofty ideals of personal dignity, individual freedom, and the fulfillment of dreams, they were inconsistent with the order of the day in which hundreds of thousands of men and women were excluded from their vision. They didn’t even bother to explain the discrepancy away.
I cannot tell a lie and pretend that I am not patriotic to the core. Growing up in the nation’s capital amidst politics, monuments, pomp and pageantry fashioned me into one who believes the founding ideals can become reality. I can recall no grander time than the nation’s Bicentennial when the city celebrated all year long like I have never seen since. People came from far and wide displaying a unified euphoria that we had made it that far.
To remain on message, I have to examine how the society that has emerged this side of the pond corresponds to the demands of the Gospel. Do I believe in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny that seeks to justify theft, murder, and exploitation on a level the world has ever seen? Heavens no!
What I do believe is there is an indomitable spirit that will allow us to achieve whatever is in our hearts to do. The Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17). Not only that, we are free to exercise faith—or not—without interference from the government. The fact that we can do all these things without state-sponsored force or oppression should at least elicit a “hallelujah.”
In spite of its ignominious beginnings and present shortfalls, America is as good as it gets on this terrestrial ball. Nowhere else on earth can a person of modest birth even imagine that they too can one day be President. Or if politics is not their fortè, then they can aim at entrepreneurship, education, public service, entertainment, or a myriad of fields of personal endeavor with a reasonable chance of arriving where their natural talent, hard work, and good fortune propel them.
The following hymn captures the sentiments of the day:
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the county where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
Americans are not the only ones God wants to be free. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some barbeque and fireworks in my near future.