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From The Archives: Celebrate The 4th -- Pursue Some Happiness!

[ Posted Tuesday, July 4th, 2017 – 21:25 PDT ]

[Originally published July 4, 2007]

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.

-- Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

 

That line will be widely quoted across this land today, in parks and bandstands, on radio and in newsprint, from California to the New York islands, in countless big-city parades and from a myriad of small-town gazebos.

The more serious-minded of these proclaimers will go on to read the entire text of the Declaration which began the idea of the United States of America. It's an interesting text to read, and if you haven't read it since Junior High, I certainly encourage you to do so. There are obvious parallels in the deprivations of King George III which may sound uncomfortably apt today, for various reasons.

For instance, in the list of grievances: "He [King George] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither..."

Funny, but I didn't hear many Republicans quoting that line during the recent immigration debate.

There are always those who point out the politically incorrect bits, too: "[King George] has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

That part gets edited out of a lot of small-town ceremonies, and also winds up on the cutting room floor of a lot of big-city newspapers.

But I write today not to quibble with or otherwise criticize what was writ more than two centuries ago, but instead to shine a brilliant spotlight on the fundamental and far-ranging statement which begins the preamble. Because -- today of all days -- it bears understanding by all who call America home.

In 1921, the incomparable H.L. Mencken decided the text needed updating, so he wrote "The Declaration of Independence in American," which is just as funny today as when he wrote it (although the politically incorrect slurs and other rough language are from another era, so the easily-offended should be warned). He translated the relevant text above into the following:

"All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, you and me is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time however he likes, so long as he don't interfere with nobody else."

Well put, for 1921. While I admit I am tempted to follow in Mencken's footprints and rewrite the entire document into modern American vernacular, that'll just have to wait for another year. Because increasing understanding of the bedrock sentence in the entire document is more important.

 

We hold these truths to be self evident...

The following ideas are so blindingly obvious to any thinking individual that they simply cannot be contradicted. There is no argument against the following statements which has any meaning at all. They are statements of truth and fact with which no intelligent person can argue. The following things we say are not only true but indeed are so axiomatic that they require no proof whatsoever, and rather stand alone as solid pillars of linguistic granite requiring no external support.

 

...that all men are created equal...

All humans are born of woman and enter into this world in pain. We are all children of "Nature and Nature's God," equal in value and equal in importance. The law and the government must see all humans equally and treat them all equally, since this is Nature's intent.

[OK, admittedly, that's not what it meant when it was written. When it was written, it meant "...all men are created equal... except for slaves (of course)... and Indians (of course)... and women (of course, that's why we said "men")... and any men who didn't own property -- who may have been created equal, but we're certainly not giving them the right to vote..." But I freely translate the Founding Fathers into what the phrase should have meant when written, and is indeed slowly coming to mean in today's America.]

 

...that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,...

That when they are born, each human has certain rights which cannot be separated from them. Governments cannot take these rights away, and the individuals themselves cannot sell, barter, or give away these rights. They are the birthright of every citizen, and remain with that citizen until arriving on Death's door. These rights may be usurped by tyrannical governments, but the possession of these rights is still each human's divine gift. A government may take away your freedom -- but not your inherent right to be free, since that is a possession which simply cannot be taken from you by anyone.

 

...that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Among these rights (not only these we're going to mention, mind you, but just among the many which are every human's true birthright) are the ability to live free, the ability to freely live, and the ability to pursue happiness in whatever method you choose that does not infringe on another's rights. This could mean acquiring property, this could mean pursuing the profession of your choice, this could mean running for public office. However you define happiness, it's your inherent right to chase your dream, and the government cannot take this fundamental right away from you.

 

The entire sentence's keystone is the word "unalienable," defined as: "non-transferable." Today, it's considered archaic and bad English, but it was perfectly acceptable in 1776. Some even translate the word into its modernly acceptable spelling, "inalienable," which is just a semantic travesty. While the two words are essentially interchangeable in meaning, some things simply should not be edited -- ever -- and the founding document of our country would seem to fit that category, in my humble opinion.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists both words as synonyms, and cites usages of both back to the 1600s. Some, even today, argue that the words are not interchangeable, and that "unalienable" means something that you are not allowed to sell (like liberty -- you cannot sell yourself into slavery, as it is illegal to do so) -- something, in other words, that is your birthright and cannot ever be surrendered or taken from you. The flip side to this argument is that "inalienable" should be defined as something which cannot be surrendered or taken from you without your consent. I reject such hair-splitting as etymological foolishness. The Founding Fathers knew what they were talking about, and they were talking about natural rights which each possess and which cannot be removed from you, ever, by anyone.

If proof of this is necessary, the Virginia Constitution's Bill of Rights, which is seen by many as a "first draft" to our own Constitution (from June of 1776), begins with Section 1:

"That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity, namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

That meaning is crystal-clear, even if it does use more words to describe the same concept.

 

The wonderful thing about the Fourth of July is... well, OK... number one has to be the fireworks. It's hard to top the bombs bursting in air, and the rockets' red glare and the concomitant "Ooohs" and "Aaahs."

Seriously, though, the wonderful thing about the Fourth is that although it is a summer holiday, unlike Memorial Day there is simply no guilt factor about enjoying yourself. Every Memorial Day, a certain contingent of Americans gets indignant opinion articles published in newspapers across the country (or in letters to the editor, if they don't have enough influence) which grumble about how: "This day is for the soldiers, not for mattress sales and barbeques. Show our veterans some respect, put a flag on a military grave," and all the rest of that refrain. Problem is, they're right. If they weren't right, the rest of us wouldn't feel guilty at what they have to say -- they would simply be ignored.

Labor Day, our other bookend summer holiday, has no guilt attached to it whatsoever. I guess the decline of unions in America... oh, heck, that's not really it... it's because union members love to hold and attend fantastic picnics on Labor Day as much as the next guy. They are the next guy, in fact -- standing there just beside you.

But the glorious Fourth is all about what a cool idea America was in the first place, and how we of all nations came up with the idea first. It is a day even a tree-hugging liberal in San Francisco can fly an American flag proudly -- with no militaristic overtones taken by her tree-hugging liberal neighbors, it should be noted -- since it is a day to celebrate what the ideal of America is. And that's something every American holds deeply in their own heart, and can celebrate in a very personal way -- even while enjoying the public celebrations.

So go ahead this Independence Day. Have a hot dog. Jump in some water somewhere. Watch a parade. Drink a beer. Drink two! Watch some fireworks.

The Founding Fathers not only would have approved of the concept of you having a great July 4th, they founded the whole damn country just so you could exercise your natural right to do so. You would be letting them down, in essence, by not doing so.

And that's something we all truly can celebrate together. Because it's not just celebrating your right as an American to have a happy Fourth, it's actually celebrating your birthright as a human being to be happy.

So go out there and pursue some Happiness today!

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

9 Comments on “From The Archives: Celebrate The 4th -- Pursue Some Happiness!”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Whoops, sorry -- meant to post this earlier in the day, but you know how it goes...

    :-)

    Hope everyone had a happy Fourth!

    -CW

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @cw,

    as tends to happen with older articles, the mencken link is dead. here's a link to 'The Declaration of Independence in American' that's still active:

    http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/decind.html

    JL

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    virginia declaration of rights, new link:

    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/virginia.asp

  4. [4] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    I love the premise of this article. Perhaps to drive the point home, we should place on our flag the words "Have Fun".

  5. [5] 
    michale wrote:

    I love the premise of this article. Perhaps to drive the point home, we should place on our flag the words "Have Fun".

    Be excellent to each other

    :D

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    and party on dudes!

  7. [7] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW and gang

    Here's a four part interview with American University professor Peter Kuznick on American Exceptionalism

    Part 1
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=10863

    Good interview with the co-writer of The Untold History of the United States.

    So much of our policy hinges on the ideas discussed here... usually based on ignorance.
    At one point in the interview, they mention that only 12% of Americans graduate high school proficient in American history, and even that is wishful thinking.

    Each segment is about 15 minutes... I strongly encourage everyone to at least sample it for a better grasp of our "benevolent imperialism"... or as we like to believe, doing bad things for good reasons.

    A

  8. [8] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW and Don

    CW, I'm sure you are familiar with this, but if you've ever written about it, it was before my time. I'd love to hear your current thoughts.

    An interview with author of Refinery Town Steve Early

    http://therealnews.com/t2/story:19273:A-Small-City%27s-Big-Lessons-About-Progressive-Organizing

    A small city's big lessons about progressive organizing.

    Don, your One Demand effort could benefit from the holistic approach that was taken in Richmond CA.
    They've basically enacted your policy within a larger framework that creates continuity, but it's also a left wing approach whereas you are hoping for a nonpartisan approach.
    Given that the reality in Richmond is similar to other cities and states, and that Big Money and "conservatism" (in both major parties) go hand in hand and are rather happy with their system to maintain power, I've considered that a flaw in your approach, despite it being the more inclusive and noble path.
    So, just an FYI... something to consider perhaps.
    I'm sure you'll tell me if you disagree.

    A

  9. [9] 
    michale wrote:

    and party on dudes!

    Heh You get me... :D

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