America’s court system has several purposes but, in general, they all amount to resolving controversies. Citizens need some place to help them settle their differences with other citizens so everyone can get on with their lives. And one of the most important thing judges can do to start the resolution of a court case is to encourage the competing parties to find common ground. If the competing parties recognize they have similar needs and if all parties can at least consider the possibility that an outcome that benefits their adversary may also benefit themselves, a path leading to a reasonable compromise may appear.
Our country has often struggled with competing strongly held beliefs even going so far as resulting in the Civil War. But short of actual armed conflict we have suffered through numerous periods where political issues at first appeared to be intractable but were assuaged by the parties finding common ground. Our current public debate over such issues as immigration or war with Iran or several other significant matters may feel as if the only solutions are pistols at ten paces. However, when Americans are reminded we have more and better reasons to agree than disagree, we can begin to accommodate, and even celebrate, our differences. Such is the beauty of our national birthday party. Perhaps we should consider having similar periods of healing every month.
Peg and I participated in one such Fourth of July celebration in New Harmony, Indiana last week. Because New Harmony is a small town we personally knew where many of the people attending and involved in the party stand on volatile issues such as immigration, global warming, military involvement, the Me Too Movement, Black Lives Matter and, especially, partisan politics. Many of our friends and family are well informed and passionate on these and other matters. Conversations have often seemed more like a contact sport than reasoned debate.
But for several hours on the Fourth of July we all found common ground in the Declaration of Independence, songs of praise and a First Amendment type respect for our hard won honorable common heritage. In our culture we have numerous monthly events that each of us enjoys and respect such as club and association gatherings, sporting events, birthdays and anniversaries. Maybe we should set aside some time every month to renew our common faith in America.
THANK YOU, NATHAN. AND THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING HERE. BY THE WAY, YOU CAN RELAX AND RELY UPON THIS BEING A SHORT SPEECH, ALTHOUGH YOU MAY SAY NOT SHORT ENOUGH. YOU SEE, YOU HAVE AN INSURANCE POLICY AS SOME MEMBERS OF THE REDWINE FAMILY INSISTED ON ATTENDING TODAY TO MAKE SURE I DO NOT GO OVER MY ALLOTTED TWENTY MINUTES.
WHEN MY SISTER AND OUR TWO BROTHERS AND I ALL SANG IN OUR CHURCH CHOIR, OUR MINISTER, REVEREND MAX WOLFE, WOULD SOMETIMES RATTLE ON AS THE CONGREGATION YEARNED FOR RELIEF. SO HIS DAUGHTER, JUDY, WHO WAS THE CHURCH ORGANIST WOULD ALLOW MAX TO GO ABOUT FIVE MINUTES LONG THEN SHE WOULD BEGIN SOFTLY PLAYING THE INTRODUCTION TO “THE DOXOLOGY”. THEREFORE, IF YOU HEAR MY FAMILY BEGIN SOFTLY MUMBLING “PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW …” JUST JOIN IN AND I WILL SIT DOWN. NOT YET, DAVID CAMPBELL!
IT IS GOOD TO BE WITH YOU ON THIS DAY OF CELEBRATION OF AMERICA’S INDEPENDENCE. IT IS CALLED INDEPENDENCE DAY WITH GOOD REASON. OUR FOUNDERS WERE WILLING TO DIE FOR THE RIGHT TO CONTROL THEIR OWN LIVES. THEY WERE NOT SEEKING WAR WITH THE MOST POWERFUL NATION ON EARTH IN 1776. THEY WERE NOT ATTEMPTING TO DICTATE TO KING GEORGE III HOW THE ENGLISH SHOULD BEHAVE. THEY SOUGHT ONLY FREE WILL FOR AMERICA TO DETERMINE ITS OWN COURSE.
I AM HONORED TO HAVE BEEN ASKED TO SPEAK BY THE FRIENDS OF THE WORKING MEN’S INSTITUTE, THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN INDIANA AND THE NEW HARMONY KIWANIS CLUB. WHEN MY FRIENDS, JEANNE AND NATHAN MAUDLIN, CONTACTED ME THEY ASKED ME TO ADDRESS ISSUES SWIRLING AROUND AMERICA’S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE DURING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR. I BELIEVE THEY THOUGHT I WAS OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE SERVED IN IT. WHILE I AM PROUD TO BE AN HONORABLY DISCHARGED VETERAN IT IS NOT TRUE THAT I SERVED DURING THE REVOLUTION. THERE WAS NO UNITED STATES AIR FORCE IN 1776.
HOWEVER, I DO UNDERSTAND THE DESIRE TO GET A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF HISTORY. ALL OF US WISH WE COULD ASK OUR PARENTS ABOUT THINGS LONG PAST OR PERHAPS HAVE A CHANCE TO ASK PAST HEROES SUCH AS GEORGE WASHINGTON OR JAMES MADISON WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THOSE SECRET MEETINGS IN PHILADELPHIA THAT PRODUCED OUR CONSTITUTION.
FOR EXAMPLE, ONE OF MY HEROINES IS FRANCES (MAD FANNY) WRIGHT, THAT FIGHTER FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS, BLACK RIGHTS AND FREEDOM FROM RELIGION WHO SPOKE HERE IN NEW HARMONY ON JULY 04, 1828. OH HOW MUCH WE COULD LEARN IF WE COULD SPEAK WITH HER NOW. THEN I REMEMBERED WE MAY HAVE SOMEONE WITH US HERE TODAY WHO MAY HAVE KNOWN MAD FANNY AND WHAT SHE REALLY THOUGHT. IS MY FRIEND CHARLIE GASTON HERE? HELLO CHARLIE. DO YOU MIND ME ASKING? DIDN’T YOU USE TO DATE MAD FANNY WRIGHT? WELL, THANKS. MAYBE WE CAN TALK ABOUT MAD FANNY LATER AT MACLURE PARK OVER A HOT DOG.
ANOTHER OF THE GREAT INDEPENDENCE TYPE QUESTIONS THOSE OF US PRIVILEGED TO LIVE IN POSEY COUNTY OFTEN PONDER IS WHY DID FATHER GEORGE RAPP’S CELIBATE RELIGIOUS COMMUNE LAST FROM 1814 TO 1825, BUT ROBERT OWEN’S ATHEISTIC ENLIGHTENMENT COMMUNE ONLY MADE IT ABOUT THREE YEARS FROM 1825 TO 1828? WELL, IN DOING RESEARCH FOR TODAY’S GATHERING I READ THAT AT THEIR FOURTH OF JULY GALAS FATHER RAPP’S RAPPITES GAVE OUT FREE BEER, BUT ACCORDING TO ROBERT OWEN’S FOURTH OF JULY SPEECH IN 1826 OWEN CALLED FOR HIS FOLLOWERS TO “…ABANDON THE USE OF SPIRITOUS LIQUORS ….” APPARENTLY WE CAN MAKE IT WITHOUT SEX, BUT NOT WITHOUT BEER. THAT’S ANOTHER OF THOSE FREE-WILL OPTIONS WE CELEBRATE ON THE FOURTH OF JULY.
ISN’T THAT WHAT MATTERS MOST TO ALL OF US? THE VISCERAL NEED FOR THE FREEDOM TO MAKE OUR OWN CHOICES IS WHY ON THAT DAY WE NOW CALL PATRIOT’S DAY, APRIL 19, 1775, AT LEXINGTON AND CONCORD THOSE SUPPRESSED COLONISTS, “FIRED THE SHOTS HEARD ’ROUND THE WORLD”. AND IN OUR CURRENT POLITICAL CLIMATE, WHEN AMERICANS TODAY GET EMBROILED IN POLITICAL DISCUSSIONS IT SOMETIMES FEELS AS IF BOTH SIDES HAVE MUSKETS AT THE READY.
WHEN I FIND MYSELF SURROUNDED BY THE COMPETING POLITICAL MINI BALLS I TRY TO REMEMBER TO REMIND MYSELF THIS IS NOTHING NEW. OVER THE TWO OR THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS WE HOMO SAPIENS HAVE BEEN AROUND, AFTER AIR, WATER, FOOD, SHELTER AND PROCREATION, WE SEEM TO HAVE TWO MORE BASIC NEEDS: THE CONTROL OF OUR OWN LIVES; AND THE STRONG DESIRE TO CONTROL THE THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIOR OF OTHERS. THESE TWO RELATED BUT DIRECTLY OPPOSITIONAL IMPULSES APPLY TO GROUPS OF PEOPLE AND NATIONS AS WELL. YOU KNOW, WE WILL EACH DEFEND TO THE DEATH THE RIGHT OF OUR POLITICAL ADVERSARIES TO AGREE WITH US. BUT CONVERSATIONS CAN RAPIDLY TURN TO CONFRONTATION IF SOMEONE COMES DOWN ON WHAT WE BELIEVE IS THE WRONG SIDE OF SUCH ISSUES AS RELIGION, GLOBAL WARMING, IMMIGRATION, WAR AND PEACE, AND ESPECIALLY TODAY, WHO SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT BE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
THE RIGHT TO CONTROL OUR OWN LIVES MAKES US SMILE. THE DESIRE TO CONTROL OTHER PEOPLES’ LIVES CAN LEAD TO SUCH THINGS AS VITRIOLIC STATEMENTS AND SOMETIMES EVEN VICIOUS INTERCHANGES IN OUR PUBLIC INTERACTIONS. SOMETIMES THE DISCUSSIONS ABOUT CONTROL MAY CENTER ON SEXUAL ASSAULT AND THE “ME TOO MOVEMENT” OR HATE CRIMES AND “BLACK LIVES MATTER” OR PERHAPS EVEN QUESTIONS OF WAR AND PEACE.
RAPE IS A TERRIBLE CRIME NOT BECAUSE OF FORCED SEXUAL CONTACT, BILLIONS OF HUMANS HAVE HAD SEXUAL RELATIONS. NO, RAPE IS A TERRIBLE CRIME BECAUSE OF THE VICTIMS’ LOSS OF THEIR RIGHT TO DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES WHETHER AND WITH WHOM TO HAVE SEX. THE FEAR, TERROR, ANGER AND HUMILIATION CAUSED BY LOSING TOTAL CONTROL OF ONE’S BODY IS INCALCULABLE. IT IS IN ITSELF A LIFE SENTENCE THAT CAN LEAD TO PERMANENT BITTERNESS TOWARD AND DISTRUST OF OUR LEGAL SYSTEM. MUCH AS LYNCHINGS CAN RESULT IN AN ENTIRE RACE OF PEOPLE LIVING WITH CONSTANT CONCERN ABOUT THEIR FREEDOM.
LYNCHINGS, SUCH AS THOSE THAT WERE COMMITTED ON OUR POSEY COUNTY COURTHOUSE LAWN ON OCTOBER 12, 1878, ARE A COLLECTIVE DENIAL OF ANOTHER’S RIGHT TO CONTROL THEIR OWN DESTINY. AND IT IS NOT JUST THE VICTIMS WHO LOSE, BUT EVEN THOSE WHO DENY JUSTICE TO OTHERS MAY REAP THE WHIRLWINDS OF RETALIATION AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
WARS OF AGGRESSION, NOT CONSTITUTIONALLY AUTHORIZED WARS FOR NATIONAL DEFENSE, ARE OUR COUNTRY’S INTENTIONAL DENIAL OF ANOTHER COUNTRY’S OR PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO INDEPENDENTLY DETERMINE THEIR OWN DESTINY. ONE OF THE MAIN CAUSES OF OUR COUNTRY’S POST-WWII DENIALS OF THE RIGHT OF OTHER COUNTRIES TO CONTROL THEIR OWN LIVES ARE WARS INSTIGATED BY INDEPENDENT EXECUTIVE ACTION WITHOUT CONGRESSIONAL AUTHORIZATION.
WE CAN EACH QUICKLY CITE EVIDENCE OF SUCH WARS BASED ON FALSE PREMISES AND RASH EXECUTIVE ACTION. PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON USED THE SHAKY PREMISE OF THE TONKIN GULF RESOLUTION TO GET US HOPELESSLY EMBROILED IN VIETNAM. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH RELIED ON FALSE INTELLIGENCE REPORTS THAT IRAQ HAD WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND WAS INVOLVED IN 9/11. PRESIDENT BUSH THEN PRECIPITOUSLY LED US INTO WHAT APPEARS TO BE AN ENDLESS AND POINTLESS WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST. AND NOW, IF WE IN AMERICA AS LED BY PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, INSIST ON CONTROLLING IRAN, IT COULD BE THE PERSIAN GULF WAR REDÜX BASED ON THE PRETEXT OF TORPEDOED OIL TANKERS OR DOWNED DRONES. AS PETE SEEGER’S SONG “WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?” ASKS US, “WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?, WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?”
OUR FOUNDERS’ WISDOM OF PLACING THE AUTHORITY TO WAGE WAR IN CONGRESS IS THAT SUCH A PROCEDURE KEEPS ALL OF OUR CITIZENS MORE CLOSELY INVOLVED IN THESE GRAVE DECISIONS. AND, IT REQUIRES MUCH MORE CAREFUL DELIBERATION WHEN CONGRESS IS INVOLVED. ALSO, WHEN WE ELIMINATED THE MILITARY DRAFT WE TURNED FROM A CITIZEN MINUTE MAN TYPE MILITARY TO A PROFESSIONAL AND LESS ECUMENICAL TYPE FORCE. TO MAKE THE TRAGIC CHOICE TO GO TO WAR ALL AMERICANS SHOULD FEEL THE DIRECT COST. THAT’S ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS WE WENT FROM 1918 TO 1941 AT PEACE. BUT AFTER WE ENDED THE DRAFT WE HAVE NEVER BEEN WITHOUT CONFLICT. IT IS TOO EASY TO HIRE OTHERS TO IMPOSE OUR WILL ON THE POWERLESS. WITH A PROFESSIONAL STANDING MILITARY OUR ARMED FORCES NEVER STAND DOWN AND THE TEMPTATION FOR ANY OF OUR PRESIDENTS TO PLAY WITH THESE AWESOME POWERS AS IF THEY WERE TOY SOLDIERS IS TOO INTOXICATING FOR MOST TO RESIST.
ONE OF THE GOOD THINGS WE RECEIVED FROM ONE OF OUR BRITISH COUSINS AND THE IDEALS ROBERT OWEN’S COMMUNE ASCRIBED TO, WERE JOHN LOCKE’S ENLIGHTENMENT PHILOSOPHIES AS HIGHLIGHTED BY THE DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS. OUR INDEPENDENCE AS A NATION HAS SURVIVED GREAT TRAUMA DUE IN LARGE PART TO OUR GOVERNMENT’S THREE SEPARATE AND EQUAL POWERS: EXECUTIVE; LEGISLATIVE; AND, JUDICIAL. WE FORGET THIS AT OUR PERIL.
OUR FOUNDERS UNDERSTOOD HUMAN NATURE. THAT’S WHY WE HAVE AN ELECTED PRESIDENT INSTEAD OF AN ANOINTED KING. IT SEEMS THAT ALMOST NO MATTER WHO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE IS, THE TEMPTATION TO CONTROL OTHERS BY MILITARY MIGHT IS IRRESISTIBLE. CONTROL OF OUR LIVES IS AN INHERENT NEED FOR INDIVIDUALS AND NATIONS AND, IF LOST, CAN LEAD TO LONG-TERM BAD EFFECTS FOR BOTH THE INVADERS AND THE INVADED.
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO PEG AND I ATTENDED A RODEO IN OSAGE COUNTY, OKLAHOMA WHERE THIRTY-FIVE COMPETING COWBOYS WERE INTRODUCED AS THEY HELD A GIGANTIC AMERICAN FLAG IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ARENA. EACH COWBOY STOOD AT ATTENTION AS HE HELD THE FLAG WITH ONE HAND AND HELD HIS WESTERN HAT OVER HIS HEART WITH THE OTHER WHILE A COWGIRL ON HORSEBACK SANG “THE NATIONAL ANTHEM”. IT WAS A MOVING EXPERIENCE FOR PEG AND ME AS WE STOOD AT ATTENTION WITH OUR HANDS OVER OUR HEARTS. IT MADE ME THINK ABOUT THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE AND SILENT PROTESTS BY PLAYERS AS WELL AS RAISED FISTS AT THE 1972 OLYMPICS AND MEMBERS OF THE U.S.A.’S WOMENS SOCCER TEAM WHO CHOOSE TO STAND BUT NOT PLACE THEIR HANDS OVER THEIR HEARTS. WHAT A FEELING OF FREEDOM IT SHOULD GIVE US ALL WHEN OUR FELLOW CITIZENS VOICE THEIR DISSENT EVEN IF WE DISAGREE WITH THEIR POSITIONS. THESE PATRIOTS HARKEN BACK TO PATRICK HENRY AND HIS PREFERENCE FOR DEATH OVER A LIFE WITHOUT CHOICE.
DISSENT BY OTHERS, ESPECIALLY BY THOSE DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED TO MY BELIEFS, HELPS TO REMIND ME INDEPENDENCE DAY IS ONE OF LIFE’S GREATEST GIFTS AND REINFORCES MY GRATITUDE TO OUR FOURTH OF JULY 1776 HEROES. IT MAKES ME THINK OF JAMES MADISON AND HIS DEMAND THAT THE FIRST TEN AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION BE ADOPTED.
THE FIRST AMENDMENT IS THE ULTIMATE RECOGNITION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF CHOICE: FREEDOM OF AND FROM RELIGION; FREEDOM OF SPEECH; AND, THE FREEDOM TO PETITION OUR GOVERNMENT WHETHER IN WRITING OR BY DEMONSTRATION. I AM PROUD THAT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IF PEG AND I WANT TO STAND FOR “THE NATIONAL ANTHEM” OR FOR ANY OTHER CAUSE, SUCH AS “THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS” OR THE “INDIANA UNIVERSITY FIGHT SONG”, WE MAY. AND, IF OTHERS DO NOT WISH TO, THEY HAVE THE RIGHT NOT TO. EVEN THOSE MISGUIDED PEOPLE FROM PURDUE UNIVERSITY, PROFESSOR SCHUETTE.
FOR SOME REASON THAT RODEO EXPERIENCE REMINDED ME OF WHAT OUR SOLDIER SON, JIM, TOLD US HE OBSERVED WHEN HE VISITED THE OLD SOVIET UNION BEFORE THE WALL CAME DOWN AND BEFORE HE WAS SENT TO WAR IN IRAQ. JIM SAID WHEN HE HAPPENED TO SEE OTHER AMERICANS IN THE OLD USSR HE COULD ALWAYS PICK THEM OUT FROM THE CROWD OF RUSSIANS BECAUSE THE AMERICANS WERE THE ONLY ONES SMILING.
THEN WHEN I WAS SENT BY THE NATIONAL JUDICIAL COLLEGE TO TEACH UKRAINIAN JUDGES IN 2000 AND THEN TO RUSSIA TO TEACH RUSSIAN JUDGES IN 2003 I HAD SIMILAR EXPERIENCES. IN UKRAINE I TOOK THEIR DILAPIDATED GREY SUBWAY TRAIN AND WAS CRAMMED IN WITH MANY UKRAINIAN MEN AND WOMEN AND ONE BOY ABOUT SIX YEARS OLD. THE ADULTS WERE ALL DRESSED IN DARK CLOTHING AND HAD SOBER DARK EXPRESSIONS. NO ONE SMILED OR NODDED HELLO. THEN I CAUGHT THE LITTLE BOY’S EYE AND SMILED AT HIM. AT FIRST HE ALMOST SMILED BACK THEN CAST DOWN HIS EYES.
IN RUSSIA PEG WAS WITH ME AND WE TOOK THE SUBWAY TO SEE THE ONION DOMES OF THE KREMLIN. PEG HAD ON A LIGHT BLUE COAT AND I WAS WEARING MY RED SKI JACKET. EVERY OTHER PERSON ON THE TRAIN HAD ON DARK CLOTHES AND DOUR FACES. WHEN PEG AND I SMILED AT ONE ANOTHER BECAUSE WE WERE HAPPY TO BE IN MOSCOW TOGETHER WE WERE THE ONLY ONES SMILING. THAT’S WHEN WE REALIZED WHAT FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE AND THE FOURTH OF JULY ARE ALL ABOUT. WE ARE CONFIDENT WE HAVE THE RIGHT AS AMERICANS TO CONTROL OUR OWN DESTINIES. THAT MEANS EVERYTHING. AND THAT IS WHY WHEN AMERICANS ARE SEEN AMONG THE PEOPLE OF OTHER NATIONS OFTEN THE AMERICANS ARE THE ONLY ONES SMILING. BUT IF WE INSIST ON IMPOSING OUR WILL ON OTHER COUNTRIES OR UPON ONE ANOTHER, WE SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED IF THEY DO NOT SMILE BACK.
WE CAN KEEP SMILING AS LONG AS OUR FRIENDS AND FELLOW CITIZENS RESPECT OUR OPINIONS AND THEY WILL KEEP SMILING AT US AS LONG AS WE RESPECT THEIR RIGHT TO THEIR OPINIONS.
UH OH, I THINK I HEAR THE OFF-KEY STRAINS OF “THE DOXOLOGY”, SO THANKS AND I’LL SEE YOU LATER FOR HOT DOGS AT MACLURE PARK. THAT IS, OF COURSE, IF YOU INDEPENDENTLY CHOOSE TO GO THERE. AND MAYBE WE CAN ASK CHARLIE GASTON ABOUT MAD FANNY WRIGHT. THANKS.
When Jeanne and Nathan Maudlin as representatives of New Harmony, Indiana’s Working Men’s Institute that along with the University of Southern Indiana and the New Harmony Kiwanis Club is helping sponsor this year’s New Harmony Fourth of July celebration asked me to speak, my first thought was to research prior speeches. I am a judge after all and precedent is important to me. Jeanne graciously sent me a copy of the excellent book, New Harmony’s Fourth of July Tradition, by Donald Pitzer and Josephine Elliott.
The book includes verbatim Fourth of July speeches given by Robert Owen (1826), William Owen (1827) and Frances (Mad Fanny) Wright (1828). Each talk contains observations and advice that address issues that could have been found on the front pages of today’s newspapers or on T.V. news programs. War and peace, racial problems, women’s rights, religious discrimination and freedom of thought and action are exposited clearly.
Independence as declared on July 04, 1776 and our country’s often slow and incremental progress toward accomplishing the ideals encapsulated in our Constitution are referenced or implied in each address. As Frances Wright explained, the genius of our Founders was they gave us a government that we could change if we needed and wanted. Mad Fanny was called mad in 1828 because she called for freedom from religion, freedom for enslaved Negroes, equality for women and liberty from wars of aggression for the United States of America and all other countries. As not so mad Fanny might observe today, America has made substantial progress toward these ideals through incremental, democratic, constitutional change. Of course, we still have work to do.
In his address on July 04, 1827 William Owen, Robert’s twenty-five year old son, concentrated on the evils of superstition and bloody wars of aggression as egged on by various religions. And William Owen thanked the heroes of July 04, 1776 for fighting for our liberty and freedom of speech:
“Are we prepared to exercise the right, as we enjoy the power, secured to us by the heroes of the revolution, of expressing our thoughts openly and sincerely? Are we willing to run the risks they encountered? Are we ready like them to meet the prejudices of past times, to risk name and reputation in the cause of truth, – in defense of the honest expression of our opinions?”
William both recognized the sacrifices made by our Founders and cautioned of the repercussions should we fail to follow our own Constitution:
“Man had been slowly but gradually freeing himself from that thraldom in which he was so long enslaved, when our ancestors, on that day, the anniversary of which we this morning celebrate, by one bold step recovered that state of liberty and independence, which is the birthright of humanity, and gave a death blow, to the unnatural league between despotism and superstition, by the adoption of a Constitution, which forever precludes, so long as adhered to, the recurrence of such an unhappy connection.”
Robert Owen, whose vision of humanity and equality was the bedrock of the secular commune of New Harmony, 1825-1828 (c), on July 04, 1826 fearlessly stated his view as to the root cause of the world’s evils:
“Religion, or Superstition – for all religions have proved themselves to be Superstitions, – by destroying the judgment, irrationalized all the mental faculties of man, and made him the most abject slave, through the fear of non-entities created solely by his own disordered imagination.”
Owen was a wealthy industrialist who cared about his workers and their families. He put in place many of the better conditions of employment that eventually were adopted by the United States of America, and other countries. Owen fought for women’s equality, freedom from religion and the avoidance of wars of aggression. And along with numerous other idealists such as his own sons, William Maclure of the Working Men’s Institute fame and Frances Wright, Robert Owen established a legacy that all of us in Posey County should treasure.
Gentle Reader, if you wish to help carry on New Harmony’s Fourth of July traditions of celebrating our Independence, the festivities begin the morning of July 04, 2019 at the Atheneum in New Harmony. Peg and I plan to be there and look forward to the reading of the Declaration of Independence by our friend Chuck Minnette as well as a golf cart parade, hot dogs and patriotic music. Hope to see you there. Happy birthday!
Aeschylus (c. 525-455 BC) is the earliest sage credited with the ironic observation that, “The first casualty of war is truth”. However, it does not require an ancient Greek playwright to point out such an obvious truism. Whatever the times, whichever the country and whoever the politicians, gossamer justifications for attacking other nations is de rigueur.
Sixty thousand Americans were killed in the Vietnam War that was escalated by President Johnson from a failed CIA coup to a full blown war based on the false premise of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. President George W. Bush took America to war against Afghanistan and Iraq recklessly and wrongly alleging Iraq had “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and that Iraq was involved in 9/11. Now we have such luminaries as John Bolton salivating to send American soldiers maybe to die or kill Iranians while Bolton precipitously declares Iran attacked a Japanese oil tanker and a Norwegian oil tanker near the Persian Gulf. Of course, the Iranians are the only Persians over there. Why the United States has any right or obligation to intercede for Norway or Japan against Iran is a mystery advanced by Bolton and Mike Pompeo but debunked by even Japan and Norway along with most of the international community.
As we near the celebration of our nation’s independence from Great Britain we might want to examine whose blood and treasure is once again being so cavalierly wagered by some of our politicians. I am fairly confident President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and presidential advisor John Bolton do not plan to do any of the actual fighting. And it will be our tax money not their personal funds expended. The clamor for war is akin to why we revolted against England. Taxation without representation is analogous to a declaration of war without Congress. Maybe we should dump some tea into the Potomac.
When I want to take a walk I prefer my most comfortable pair of boots. When I want to return to a destination I choose the route I previously successfully traveled. Even when I mow my yard I normally approach the task the same way each time. Surprises are okay for birthdays and Christmas, but for almost everything else familiarity tends to work best if it is an option.
So when the New Harmony, Indiana Working Men’s Institute asked me to speak this Fourth of July after the initial glow of pride the rush of trepidation led me to seek out shelter in time-tested material such as the following offerings. As most of the original authors have already received their “summonses to join that innumerable caravan..”, I presume a little plagiarism will pass without complaint.
As to July 04, 1776
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The British had provided America with a system of government, but imposed taxes upon us to pay for it without allowing us to be represented in our own government.
It was a time of dark and stormy nights filled with British soldiers being quartered in our homes without our permission and Americans being impressed to serve on British ships. Such treatment incited the embattled American farmers to stand at Lexington and Concord and fire the shots heard ‘round the world. At least one patriot decided death was preferable to dishonor and wondered why some still remained silent while their brethren were already in the field.
Others declared the course of human events made it necessary to sever America’s ties to Great Britain and take its rightful place among the nations of the world. From 1620 until 1776 people had dithered and wondered whether to be or not to be free. Whether it was nobler to suffer Britain’s slings and arrows or to take up arms and oppose them. In other words, should we drink high taxed tea or dump it in the harbor?
Fortunately for us our Forefathers and Foremothers chose liberty over acquiescence, freedom over paternalism and sacrifice over dishonor. Thanks to all of them.
Woody Guthrie (Woodrow Wilson Guthrie 1912-1967) came of age in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. When one hears Woody sing about the America of those times Guthrie’s personal experiences and perceptions should be considered. In that context, his song’s ironic lyrics that point out America might not have been made for everybody speak to those Americans left out by our Founding Fathers, who were all well-to-do white men.
James Madison (1751-1836) is called the Father of the United States Constitution for good reason. He conceived of and drafted most of the Constitution including its first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. Madison and the rest of the fifty-five well-to-do white men who attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from May 25 to September 17, 1787 met in secret. The public and the media were excluded and the delegates were sworn to secrecy.
Madison and his fellow Virginian, George Mason (1725-1792), were of like mind in believing average citizens were not equipped to govern themselves and, therefore, a Constitution needed to provide for a government to consist of capable representatives who could provide for the common good. Such groups as women, Negroes and Native Americans were not to have a say in determining their own destiny. Over the years since 1787 we have slowly and gradually addressed some of the Founders’ omissions.
Slavery was abolished almost one hundred years late by the XIIIth Amendment and women were given the right to vote by the XVIIIIth Amendment in 1920. Young men who could be drafted to fight for their country at age eighteen but could not vote until age twenty-one, were fully enfranchised in 1971 by the XXVIth Amendment.
America from the Spanish Conquistadors of the 16th century until this very day has struggled with what were, are and ought to be the ideals of our country’s government. Competing interest groups such as religious sects, LGBTQ citizens, immigrants, political parties, social and cultural associations, news media and countless others exert pressures and vie for recognition and inclusion in our American dream of equality and equal opportunity. In short, America calls itself a melting pot, but it is often more of a bubbling cauldron of competing aspirations.
As we near our mutual birthday on July 04, we may wish to re-examine the base upon which our national dreams were founded and candidly evaluate our progress. Of course, it is only human that in a country of over three hundred million people we will always have disagreements on what directions to go and the best methods for getting there. And we should, also, probably both recognize the genius of our Founders and remember they were simply humans too.