The leftist ingrates at Salon have decided to “celebrate” Independence Day — which is celebrated on July 4th for the sole reason that our beautiful republic’s Declaration of Independence was ratified on that day in Philadelphia in 1776 — today in a rather peculiar manner. In what can only be described as a dissemination of the most stereotypically woke of all stereotypically woke takes, the Salon dullards today tweeted: “Despite its positive impact on history, the #DeclarationOfIndependence was also a product of its time—and bears some of the shortcomings of its era, including racism, sexism and prejudice against #NativeAmericans.”
The accompanying piece, courtesy of an obscure Ph.D. named Matthew Rozsa, concludes that America’s Founding Fathers “were fallible human beings, and some of their flaws had terrible consequences for people who were not fortunate enough to be born into privileged groups.”
Suffice it to say that such a “celebration” of the Declaration of Independence is a far cry from how John Adams described his vision for future annual celebrations in a July 1776 letter to his wife Abigail: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
But Matthew Rozsa and Salon are not merely profoundly ungrateful. They are not merely flipping a proverbial middle finger to the epistolary legacy of John Adams. They are also affirmatively wrong to muddle and belittle the genius that was Thomas Jefferson’s drafted Declaration of Independence, and it is important to understand why.
Chattel slavery was the original sin of the American republic, and one would be an inveterate fool to deny that obvious truth. The continuation of slavery from the colonial era through the early decades of the constitutional republic represented a brutal compromise of annunciated principle for the sake of maintaining a fragile unity of disaggregated and often self-interested states.
But what Salon misses — and what leftists routinely miss — is that America’s original sin of chattel slavery was just that: A compromise of principle. Slavery was not in any way a tenet of the American Founding; it was an institution manifestly athwart the Founding. The sagacity of the Declaration, in fact, was that it actually laid the seeds — the very codified foundation — for the eventual eradication of that most horrific of compromises of principle.
For the greatest statesman in the history of the republic, Abraham Lincoln, the Declaration was precisely the tool he needed to latch onto in order to finally bring the American republic in conformity with its Founding-era principles. For Lincoln, the Declaration was paramount to understanding America — the Constitution, in fact, was to Lincoln merely an encompassing “frame of silver” for the Declaration’s underlying “apple of gold.” Lincoln spoke eloquently of that Founding-era creed — what he called the “political revolution of ’76” — all throughout his adult life, including during his famous 1842 speech to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society: “Of our political revolution of ’76, we all are justly proud. It has given us a degree of political freedom, far exceeding that of any other nation of the earth. In it the world has found a solution of the long mooted problem, as to the capability of man to govern himself. In it was the germ which has vegetated, and still is to grow and expand into the universal liberty of mankind.”
It is thus the Declaration — the “apple of gold” — that provided the Great Emancipator with the moral and intellectual sustenance he needed to “grow and expand … the universal liberty of mankind” insofar as that growth and expansion meant the eradication of America’s original sin. And the eradication of that original sin, following the bloody horror of the Civil War, tangibly took the eventual form of modifying the Constitution — the “frame of silver” — via the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. For Lincoln, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the “electric cord” of the Declaration — which “links … patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”
But perhaps no one said it better than President Calvin Coolidge on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration’s ratification, in 1926:
About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
It is a great paradox of modern “progressivism” — the likes of which is embodied by Salon’s self-hating screed published today — that such insipid idiocy is, in the Coolidge formulation, not “progress” at all. It is “reactionary.”