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!