James M. Redwine
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.
As our country nears its 243rd birthday we Americans may feel as if all is gloom and doom. Members of Congress are calling for the impeachment of President Trump. President Trump is tweeting out claims that some Congress people are traitors. CNN accuses FOX News of being a sycophant for the White House. Rush Limbaugh proclaims CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post are not news agencies but simply “fake news” whose agendas have a single minded mission to remove the President from office.
At coffee shops and taverns throughout the United States one-time friends cannot carry on a respectful conversation. Even churches are choosing sides. In short, the last election drags into its third year and the next election is morphing into a mere continuation of the election past. Political pundits and politicians are donning sackcloth and ashes or arming themselves with skewers to assassinate the characters of those who have the temerity to disagree with them. It ain’t good, folks. Are we falling apart?
No! We are practicing the democracy bequeathed to us on July 04, 1776. A healthy lack of respect for the opinions of others is our birthright. As long as we simply “suffer the slings and arrows” and do not “take up arms to oppose them” it is all as clanging brass and hollow threats. In fact, our current political climate is about the same as it has been since John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both signed the Declaration of Independence, saw their close friendship dissolve over policy differences. It is America. We have the right, perhaps the duty, to voice our disagreements.
What we do not want to lose sight of is policy differences are important but should not be lethal. Maybe we should step back, take a deep breath and see how another country, North Korea for example, handles allegations of treason.
We do not know the facts and should be cautious of reports from either North Korea or other countries that may wish to harm North Korea. With that said, it has been “reported” that Kim Jong Un of North Korea was upset over the failed summit between Kim and President Trump to the point he imprisoned some of his negotiators and executed several others. He allegedly declared them traitors. Even if these reports are exaggerated, the contrast between America’s hyperbole and North Korea’s drastic actions should remind us of what the Fourth of July truly means.
Christmas and the Fourth of July were my father’s favorite times of the year. He would start “practicing up” for each commemoration about December first for Christmas and right after Memorial Day for the Fourth of July. Christmas is a ways off but our country’s birthday is rapidly approaching with Memorial Day having been this past weekend.
Memorial Day is an officially recognized federal holiday enacted to honor those members of our armed forces who gave their lives so the rest of us could enjoy the blessings of liberty. It is altogether fitting and proper that Memorial Day and the day we declared our freedom from Great Britain are linked in our minds and hearts.
It brings forth sadness and gratitude to see American flags adorning the graves of those who suffered an early death for us while we have the opportunity and the obligation to say thank you to their memory. The same feelings arise when we remember the courage and sacrifice of those fifty-six men who together pledged their “lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” on July 04, 1776.
So, how do we go about “practicing up” to celebrate our collective birthday? Benjamin Franklin, the oldest of the signers, enthusiastically directed us to honor our Day of Independence with explosions (fireworks), the mass consumption of flame cooked meats (barbecue) and patriotic music. My father, and I am confident most of yours, Gentle Readers, took Ben’s advice to heart. Whereas, Memorial Day we usually note with solemn services followed by family dinners, most of us approach the Fourth differently, more as if we are trying to bring forth those great spirits from 1776.
From the President of the United States to governors, mayors and the leaders of civic organizations throughout our country speeches will be made. From individual families to communities at all levels, parades, barbecues, games and fireworks will be enjoyed from the morning of July 4th until the smoke finally clears late at night.
I am already practicing up.
Last week Peg and I drove down I-44 from the eastern edge of Missouri to the eastern edge of Oklahoma. We observed the remains of a few deer, several opossums, one or two raccoons and over one hundred dead armadillos on the roadside. The normal final position of an armadillo was on its scaled back with its clawed paws stuck straight up. Occasionally a beer can would be nestled among the claws. Frequently the carcasses were totally flat. This phenomenon occurred so often it became obvious people went out of their way to squash the critters. Such a violent reaction to the mere existence of the armadillos becomes understandable if one should have to deal with the creatures on a daily basis.
Gentle Reader, you probably grew up as I did encountering an armadillo only when you wandered through northern Mexico or, perhaps, southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or California. I recall being amused by the resemblance to something akin to a roly-poly dinosaur. And the sightings were so rare I was excited to come across one of the adorable little oddities of nature.
It was not until the beginning of the 21st century that I began to notice the evermore prevalent incursions of armadillos as they have migrated north, east and west. Peg, who was born in New York and reared in Indiana by way of Massachusetts, used to be amazed at the “little armored ones” as named by Spanish speaking peoples in South America. In fact, as we arrived last week to our cabin in North-East Oklahoma we almost ran over an armadillo waddling along the lane to our door.
“Oh, Jim, look, we have our very own armadillo!” I kept my thoughts to myself but they involved a shotgun.
The day after we arrived Peg was all excited to go to Lowe’s and purchase about $300.00 worth of plants such as herbs, vegetables and flowers. She worked all of one day planting, watering and protecting them from rabbits and deer with special fencing. Actually, Peg instructed me in this regard. Regardless, when we checked on the plants the next day every one had been clawed up by a “cute” armadillo looking for grubs, ants and worms.
Peg’s response was about like one might expect when asking Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi how much she planned to contribute to President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. As this article will appear in several family-oriented newspapers I shall not quote Peg’s actual words other than the part where she asked, “Where’s your shotgun?”