man001050. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1g15xr4d
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WE THE PEOPLE BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
They say that peace is breaking out in Europe. In recent months we have seen the Berlin Wall come tumbling down and free elections taking place in countries where we thought communism would last for another thousand years.
Growing up in the United States during the era of the "Cold War" placed communism and communists high on my list of things and people to hate. Actually, collectively, they ranked second behind racism and racists. I know this is so because the communists wished to alter my ideology while racists were eager to alter my physiology. Having one bullet and having to make the choice of which of the two I would shoot, there would have been no need for hesitation; I would have shot the racists.
In viewing news reports of those recent European events, I have been acutely conscious of the desire of the people to establish democracies. In the town squares of many cities could and may be seen throngs of people chanting slogans. Many of those are remininscent of our own civil rights movement. Thre are clinched fists and, more than once, I have heard; "We Shall Overcome."
Hot only is peace breaking out but it is being translated into the emergence of new democracies and capitalistic economic systems. Our thinking of ourselves and our place in the world is altered. Where do we now turn when we go in search of an evil empire?
I think it is only fitting that these event occur at this time. They give us cause to pause and reflect on that which we already are supposed to have and by so doing gain some understanding as to why those nations are moving in the direction of democracy. What is it, we might ask, which causes them, at this time, to feel compelled to make such a radical change in political, social and econimic lifestyles? Why do they seek to become more
like we say we are and less like they've always been? Out of that reflection of our own system, hopefully we will gain a greater appreciation of it.
It was 214 years ago that we made our move toward democracy. We already know that story but I don't think we can ever hear it too often. I'm going to borrow from a lot of people and sources in putting this little piece together. Remember Charles Dickens? He wrote a book titled A Tale of Two Cities. It was in that book that we read: "They were the best of times and the worst of times." That lone statement describes quite well the conditions and circumstances leading up to our breakaway from England.
The colonial leaders were convinced that they were being oppressed by George III and English Parliament. Seemed as though every time they turned around there was another tax on something and no one had asked their opinion on any of them. "No taxation without representation" was reason enough to get things underway and, after that, whatever other dissatisfactions only added fuel to the fires of independence.
If any efforts at reconciliation were made they were obviously fruitless. For half-dozen years, rather than differences being resolved, the deteriorating relationshop between the two escalated. Patrick Henry did not help matters much when, on March 23, 1775, he said: "Gentlemen may cry peace, peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. What is it the gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at a price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." The following month it started.
In April of 1775, fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord. These, in spite of what had happened at what is called the Boston Massacre of 1770, were the first official shots of the American Revolution. Before you knew
it, Ticonderoga and Bunker Hill followed. War was on and in the name of
independence. It was that which made those the best of times because the first steps at establishing the United States of America were taken with the firing of those first shots and those first battles.
Close on the heels of that, in January of 1776, Tom Paine extolled the men of America to do their duty when he wrote; "These are the times that try men soul's. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country." Remember what I mentioned a long time ago, that Owen Wister wrote in his book The Virginian, well over a hundred years later and almost a hundred years ago? Listen. "A man's sense of himself is the most important thing he has." It was true in 1776 also. It is always true. Many of the men of 1776 could not read or write but when they heard of what Paine had written, many were compelled, because of their sense of themselves, to come to "...the service of their country.
They fought for independence and they all knew that even though they might not have know clearly what impact independence would have on their personal lives. They felt that it would be better than what they had and it is not unusual for a reasonable person to wish to improve their condition. In July, of that same year, we read, in it final draft, the document which was designed, in part, to explain the aims and objectives of the quest for independence. It was titled, quite appropriately, "The Declaration of Independence." The words of that document set the tone for who we were then and who we would become. If you haven't read it lately, find a copy and do so. It isn't long. It begins by saying:! "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 power from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form, of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it..."
On July 4th we celebrate Independence Day. Proclamations are read, there are parades, flags unfurl in the breeze, picnics and many times we will hear Reveille and Taps on a clear, resonant trumpet. Many of us will watch, for the hundredth time, the movie; "Yankee, Doodle, Dandy" and, if you look really closely, you'll notice that the day has something of an amber hue.
Lest we forget; even as the Founding Fathers were directing their energies toward independence there was another group interested in something far more important. Black slaves were contemplating freedom. It was their condition which made those times "...the worst of times." More freverently than independence was sought, freedom was. Attucks had died at the Boston Massacre, and Peter Salem had been at Bunker Hill and there were others all the way up to the British, surrender at Yorktown. While independence was gained for the nation, freedom for black people would be delayed for another eighty three years.
So, go on out there and barbecue, those franks and ribs, flip those burgers, stir that lemonade and watch that sugar in that Kool Air. But, while you're doing those things, remember that the Yankee Doodle Dandies of 1776 were not all just white men. If you don't remember, don't tell
Salem Poor or Cato. They might be bothered.