Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Declaration of Independence and Revisionism

It was a dicey time 236 years ago in Philadelphia. A group of men, most of them wealthy, many of them owners of fellow human beings, were about to commit an act of high treason against what was arguably the most powerful nation in the world.

A declaration had been drafted by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. It had suffered through an extensive editing process by committee and other individuals within the gathering. Some of it is still quoted and revered two plus centuries later while other parts are largely ignored by the vast majority of people who populate the country which it, in effect, founded. Indeed, when was the last time you heard someone quote this complaint against George III found within the body of the declaration: "He has excited domestic insurrections among us and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is the undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions." No, that one doesn't get a lot of play now days.

As with many important, radical, documents it has been interpreted to support a vast spectrum of political views. Both it and those who signed off on it have been subjected to increasingly fanciful historical revisions, especially by those on the religious right wing fringe of American society. If you believe their version of events and the people the nation was founded by, you've bought into the tenets of every wild eyed TV evangelist currently fouling the airwaves. Yes, you see Pentecostals drove the whole revolution.


In the declaration there are three references to a deity. First is "nature's God, second is "their Creator", third is, the "Supreme Judge of the world." There is also a mention of "Divine Providence," if you want to count that. The name Jesus is not invoked, neither is there any reference to the new, or old testament. So much for those biblical and Christian values the evangelicals are claiming the nation was based upon.

In truth, Jefferson's views of Christianity were closer to agnosticism than anything else. In a letter to his nephew, Peter Carr in 1787 he wrote, "Question with boldness even the existence of God, because if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." In fact, although he admired the teachings of Christ as "...a system of most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man," he flatly rejected the notion of Jesus' divinity.

John Adams was a Unitarian who also rejected the divinity of Jesus and the concept of the holy Trinity.

Benjamin Franklin was a confirmed deist, although a moderate who was tolerant of those who did profess Christian beliefs. In that regard he was unlike Thomas Paine who despised all things religious and went out of his way to satirize and ridicule those of faith.

George Washington, who missed the signing because he was commanding an army in the field, never referred to Jesus Christ in any of his writings and refused to accept communion.

Tomorrow is a time to study the document and reflect upon how it shook the existing world political order to its very core. After July 4th, 1776 nothing, especially in the western hemisphere, would ever be the same again.

It was a gutsy move by a bunch of people who had everything, including their lives, to lose. We dishonor their memory and accomplishments if we try to portray them as something they weren't simply to facilitate our own ends.

That Orwellian concept is perhaps the greatest internal threat to the republic and democracy as a whole that the nation faces today.

It is something to keep in mind as the fireworks go off and the brats sizzle on the grill.

Veritas Omnina Vincit


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