Most Americans (I hope) know what today is. 🙂 I thought some lesser known words once offered by the drafter of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 might be interesting reading today. At age seventy-seven, in 1821, five years before his death, Thomas Jefferson wrote this recollection in his autobiography:
If you read enough of Jefferson’s writings, you notice he had a tendency at times to sensationalize and exaggerate, and sometimes quite a lot. That is not a surprise especially about “1776” if we remember he was of course a “propagandist” for American independence. He wasn’t about considering matters “fairly” as an historian looking back on events should.
Of course Americans did have friends in England opposed to the Government’s “crush the rebellion” policies, including prominent ones in the House of Commons itself. The most well-known today remains Edmund Burke, but noisier – and actually more supportive – was the larger than life Charles James Fox. For example, in 1775 – even before the Americans declared independence – Fox denounced the first minister (today called the “prime minister”) Lord North, terming him:
…the blundering pilot who had brought the nation into its present difficulties … Lord Chatham, the King of Prussia, nay, Alexander the Great, never gained more in one campaign than the noble lord has lost—he has lost a whole continent.
Later, during the war, to stick it to North and his Government, Fox – and some others among his roughly “70-90” supporters in the House – would make a point of ostentatiously wearing blue clothing: the main color worn by George Washington’s US Continental Army soldiers.
A bit of trivia: the town of Foxborough, Massachusetts – most famous as home of the New England Patriots American football team – is named after… Charles James Fox. So America did have friends in England. Unfortunately, there were obviously just not enough of them.
Southerner Jefferson regularly also made as much as he could of northern shipping interests being involved in transporting slaves – unsurprisingly a way a guilty conscience attempted to shift some of the blame for the slave trade. While there was certainly lots of blame to go around, including on some northerners, the fact was that slavery would not have lasted one day in Virginia, or anywhere (including in New York – where slavery legally existed until it was gradually eliminated between 1799 and 1827), had it simply been outlawed.
Of course we know now that doing that latter proved much easier said…than done, especially in some places.
As I have written before, America’s beginnings were that of a country that would mature into what it is now. It was certainly not born without its sins and huge troubles. What Americans celebrate today is NOT national perfection, but independence as a nation-state.
The “Fourth of July” was first observed a year after the declaration – July 4, 1777 – on a relatively limited and formal scale (amidst the independence war with Great Britain that was then not going all that well for Americans). Gradually the Fourth grew into a massive holiday party. However, it took at least a decade before it really caught on generally – fireworks, parades,
holiday sales at Macy’s, etc.
I think sharing an extended excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris and “returning” to “1787” is therefore appropriate today:
Oh, at the end of that above? What is he “upset” about?
Well, I’m not sharing that “spoiler” on here! 😉
Also worth remembering is the likes of this, as displayed in a letter from a foreign wife – who had never even been to America – to her American-born husband:
“‘OUR’ independence day!” After an often couple of months’ long, sometimes harrowing, ocean voyage on sailing ships that occasionally buried quite a few passengers en route (and some ships sank without a trace – no radio communications in those days), those not born in the US could choose to adopt it as a new home and did. Most were also aware that ever going back was highly unlikely and most who made it to the US never again saw family or friends left behind in their birth lands.
Now, with everywhere on the planet a far safer and shorter less than 24 hours’ airplane flight(s) to anywhere in the US, it is much easier to travel the world than it was in “1794.” That is why there are strict US entry requirements, border controls, and settlement laws compared to the virtually non-existent ones back then. Still, despite the pressures created by the 21st century’s far greater global mobility, let’s try never to forget our – save for Native Americans and enslaved Africans – heritage of “American by choice.”
Have a good 4th of July, wherever you are. 🙂