This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

July 6, 2006 - The War of Independence Still Being Fought

Since this column comes out so close to Independence Day, let me recommend a book. It's called "The Founding Brothers: A Revolutionary Generation," by Joseph Ellis. It's available from our libraries in several formats: book, large type, CD, Cassette, and now, even on VHS and DVD.

It's a shame they don't teach history this way. Instead, we get elementary school fiction, in which the Founding Fathers did boring things, building to the inevitable climax of our own perfect government.

The truth was, the American Revolution was a time of almost unimaginable tumult. There were religious conflicts, duels of honor, agitation over slavery, and an emerging struggle between agrarian society and pre-industrial. There was over half a continent to be explored -- and many Indian tribes with their own views on the matter.

The Founding Fathers -- or the revolutionary brothers, as Ellis has it -- did not meet in measured calm, and quietly agree on the rules for a new government. They fought, not always fairly. They argued publicly and passionately, about both personal and political matters.

And when they were done, they had established a nation unlike any before it. It was a nation founded on compromise and mutual distrust; now we call it "checks and balances," and we ignore those systems at our peril.

It was a nation founded in the midst of deep and bitter issues it could not then fully resolve -- witness the enshrinement of slavery in our Constitution. But without that compromise, there would have been no nation.

Beneath it all was something truly magnificent: an idea that had at least some of its roots in the Iroquois Confederacy. Our first official formulation was Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence: that we all have certain "inalienable rights." He was saying that in America, all were equal under the law.

It was a lie, of course. Even after the Constitution was adopted, there was slavery. Property-holding men could vote. No woman could.

But it was a good lie.

That root idea was so powerful, and grew so deep into the minds of the emerging nation, that it continued to work, trying to untangle the contradictions at the core of the Constitution. Four score and twenty years after the Declaration, was Gettysburg. Later, there was another battle for women's suffrage.

The deep history of the United States is all about that idea of personal equality. And it has always been in conflict with our actual social practices.

Not for us was the class-bound system of England, with its hereditary titles and lands. Not for us was the control of the state by priests. In our country, in this brave new nation, all were to be equal under the law.

Of course, these days, we do have a very distinct class system, now based on wealth, passed not by title but by trust fund. Yesteryear's priests are today's televangelists. And it's just possible that these threats are as much a danger to personal freedom as they were over 230 years ago.

Even our Bill of Rights faces many current challenges: there are people held without charges, records searched without permission or legal review. We still debate whether equal rights includes homosexuals, or workers we eagerly employ, but who had the misfortune to be born elsewhere.

But we haven't given up.

The real meaning of the United States of America is not our flag. It's not even our money. It is that stubborn belief in each individual's right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The Revolution continues.

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