Inside the Capitol

Friday, July 02, 2004

July 4th

      SANTA FE – Somehow I got particularly patriotic about July 4th this year. Considering current events, however, that’s understandable.                                                             My comment in a previous column that some people have trouble accepting the fact that our patriot founders also were revolutionaries, advocating the overthrow of their government, drew the expected responses.

Historian Dave Clary of Roswell e-mailed to note that we are the first revolutionary power and now the oldest revolutionary government in the world. We also are holder of the oldest written constitution. It was all very infectious. Lafayette returned home after our war and, under George Washington’s influence, made it the pet cause of liberals in France and Europe during the 1790s, introducing democracy in many countries throughout the continent.

Lafayette’s friendship with Washington is the subject of Adopted Son, a book Clary has in progress for Bantam-Dell, detailing the relationship between the two and the wide-ranging influence it had on themselves and their countries.

At this point in our history, when we’re not feeling very good about some of our European allies, it may be helpful to remember the contributions of Lafayette, von Steuben, de Kalb and others, who helped us win our freedom.

Lafayette’s contributions were especially crucial. He’s the one who trapped Cornwallis at Yorktown and held him, though grossly outnumbered, until the rest of the American and French forces arrived. And he’s the one who won the full military and financial support of France for our cause.

When the United States entered World War I, much of the motivation was gratitude to France for its help so many years earlier. The assistance is now mostly forgotten but at the time, it was poignantly remembered by Gen. George Pershing’s aide, Col. Charles Stanton, when he visited Lafayette’s tomb on July 4, 1917 to announce, “Lafayette, we are here.” We’ll carry more stories on Lafayette, von Steuben and others in the future.

In my July 4 column, I also mentioned several Revolutionary War dates that are not celebrated. I was reminded that the beginning of the War, on April 19, 1775, still is celebrated in New England, as Patriots Day, with one of the big events being the Boston Marathon.

To those who have trouble accepting that the overthrow of a government is acceptable, let me commend them to reread the Declaration of Independence. It is an absolutely brilliant and inspired argument for overthrowing tyranny, and not just in the colonies’ circumstance. It was a universal justification applicable to all people and all times.

Historian Samuel Morrison once said that had the American Revolution produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence, it would have been worthwhile.

Our founders fully understood that in order to espouse these universal, never-ending truths, they had to make it possible for revolution to occur again, even in their own country.

Thus came the Bill of Rights, many of whose 10 amendments are under attack today, with questionable searches and seizures, trials that aren’t speedy, gun control and public sentiment against the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The willingness by many to surrender some of our cherished freedoms in return for perceived security is deeply troubling, but of most concern to someone in my business is the indication that many Americans have second thoughts about the First Amendment.

Polls over the last few years suggest that although Americans still support the ideals of the First Amendment, they have reservations about its reality. A majority think the press has too much freedom, that public demonstrations should not be allowed and that freedom of religion is not meant to apply to fringe groups.

And although 90 percent of Americans believe in freedom of speech, support falls to less than 50 percent when asked about specifics that are constitutionally protected. We are becoming reluctant to offend, willing  to silence unpopular opinions and provocative ideas at the cost of freedom.

Where will we go from here?




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