Franklin, Jefferson, Adams“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

That’s what we’re supposed to be celebrating today.  A lot of people will get drunk.  Lots of kids will enjoy fireworks.  Some of us will sit back and judge the country harshly, looking down on the celebration of an event that broke us free from colonialism but was the harbinger of genocide and the birth of the nation which would be the last of the western world to abandon slavery as a legal institution.

Jefferson, the author, owned slaves – we all know that.  It’s not mitigation that he wanted to ban slavery in the very document that we’re celebrating (but John Adams and others talked him out of it in order to maintain unity between the colonies).  It’s not mitigation that he treated his slaves well relatively speaking, and even loved them (literally).  In fact, that all makes it worse because he knew it was evil.  And in fact, some historians challenge the contention that he was latently abolitionist – apparently there were some early writings linking intelligence to skull shapes and such – remembering from bad memory of my college readings of Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man.

But even the worst of us, fascists even, sometimes tap into something beautiful.  Fascists like Ezra Pound, D’Annunzio, Dali, Wagner (proto-fascist anyway), Speer…. Ted Nugent…

The words above are beautiful.  Jefferson tapped into something vital, and I have to believe that something spoke to his soul, because these words are worth celebrating.

It  can get confusing when debating conservatives and other war-on-terror advocates about rendition, national security, differentiation between custody as being accused of a crime and as a prisoner of war (or “enemy combatant”), because if you talk to them in the abstract, they will agree with the words above.  That human beings have rights against the abuse from another just by virtue of being a human being.  They will tell you because they learned that the rights come from God and not the government.  The government only recognizes rights that already exist.

And then you point out that non-citizens (and even some citizens apparently) are being held against Constitutional rights, which they will previously have agreed are “fundamental.”  But they aren’t entitled to the rights because they aren’t American citizens.  In other words, rights originate with government, not providence or God.

You point this out to them, and the wording of the Declaration and they will respond, so much like the dogmatic Trotskyists I know with eyes glazed over when you question anything in Lenin’s State and Revolution, that “The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document.”

Well, actually it is, but that’s completely beside the point anyway.  The question is about where you believe rights originate, and whether you believe that human government has the right to abridge these rights.

Some of the smarter conservatives will come up with a more convoluted and nuanced argument and say, “You liberals agree that there are times when government interests override those rights.”   Actually, that’s not what we say and it’s a misunderstanding of the “living document” doctrine many of us libs live by, but more to the point they don’t believe it.  Until they do.

And what they won’t admit is that they are more likely to forgo an individuals rights when there is more melanin in the subject’s skin than their own.

But the words above, they can’t be allowed to just recite them like some religious text and not deal with what they really mean.  Even if Jefferson set a bad example, these words should haunt anyone supporting Gitmo, “enhanced interrogation,” and all the doctrines of convenience.  And this holiday should haunt them.  Until they’re too drunk to think about it anyway.