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Friday, July 4, 2008

232 Years Ago...

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Today is my favorite holiday. When I was a child, it was because I got to play all day with firecrackers, and then watch the light show at the end of the night. Nowadays I appreciate it for what it is. It is sad that Independence Day has gone the way of Christmas Day. With the former we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of this nation while the latter Christians are supposed to be celebrating the birth of their religion. Just as with Christmas, Independence Day is nothing but another commercial holiday.

I choose to remember this day as it is when perhaps the greatest document in history was written. The Declaration of Independence contains more moral statements and wisdom than the whole sum of the Christian Bible. In its original form, it even included a moral indictment against the Christian King for his role in the slave trade:
He has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable Death, in their Transportation thither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.

He has prostituted his Negative for Suppressing every legislative Attempt to prohibit or to restrain an execrable Commerce, determined to keep open a Markett where Men should be bought and sold, and that this assemblage of Horrors might want no Fact of distinguished Die
On this day, 182 years ago, the greatest American to have ever lived, Thomas Jefferson, also died. Jefferson has profoundly shaped the person who I am today. When I was in junior high, I attended a school named after the great man. As a member of the school's equivalence of a student government, I was first exposed to him by going through pages of his quotes to cut out and hang around the school. I can still, to this day, recite the first thing I had ever read by Thomas Jefferson:
In matters of fashion, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
I was quite fascinated with this man, but I was of the age twelve and not quite committed to such serious studies. It wasn't until the next year when I was chosen to write an article for the school's newspaper entitled Thomas Jefferson: To Whom We Dedicate Our Honor that I really started reading what he was about. The vast achievements of Jefferson astounded me, and the eloquence of his pen was profound.

No man has greater shaped this country than Jefferson. I have half a shelf of books on Jefferson in my office. I enjoy reading collections of his letters every now and then to take a break. I had purchased another biography on the great man to read this Fourth; however, I failed to remember to bring it with me on my trip.

I rarely take offense to things people say, but when I hear people incorrectly speak of him having sex with slaves, or incorrectly speak of his views on slavery, or incorrectly speak of his views on the equality of humans, it does cause me discomfort. Not only because of the widely believed misconceptions, but because they are widely taught as well. When I was in high school, I had at least two teachers I distinctly remember having taught that when Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" that he meant only white, property only men. This is to pervert his writings and to expose sheer ignorance and lack of education on the founding of this country and the Founding Fathers. It is likely a statement to also come from those people who insist the Founders were Christian.

So, take some time today and familiarize yourself with some of the writings of this man. He has written on just about every subject. I find his personal letters most fascinating. Of special interest is his First Inaugural Address, if you have never read it. He also published a brief autobiography which is worth reading. Or, if you are in the mood for something religious, check out the Jefferson Bible.

But most of all, join me in my annual tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence and marvel at this document and remember what America was really founded on: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

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