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Taking the Fourth

BY BEAU ELLIOT | JULY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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Monday was, of course, the Fourth of July, the day we Americans celebrate as Independence Day — generally with some barbecue, some fireworks (didn’t the Chinese invent fireworks? curious), and lots of American flags (generally, these days, made in China — curious).

Which is all well and good. People all over the world are proud of their countries, and there’s no reason Americans shouldn’t be, too.

I do sometimes wonder why, in their celebration of independence, Americans don’t pay more attention to two other icons of American freedom, Juneteenth and Aug. 18.

For those of you not keeping score at home, Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that a Union general informed Texans that slavery had been banned in the United States — which, you have to admit, is a pretty important marker if liberty for all is what you believe in. (Yes, I know; it took nearly 100 years for African Americans to achieve anything approaching true equality, and during that time, America celebrated nearly 100 Independence Days. Curious.)

And Aug. 18 marks the day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment was ratified, and that gave American women the right to vote, roughly 144 years after July 4, 1776. It seems a bit odd, in an era in which women routinely run for their parties’ presidential nomination, that it took nearly 150 years for them to receive the right to vote, but then, many things seem a bit odd.

For instance, on the day after Independence Day, it’s interesting to note there’s a video circulating on the web, as BBC Radio reports, of several of the NYPD Blue’s finest handcuffing and wrestling to the ground a man in the New York City park. His crime?

He dared to amplify his violin and play it in the park.

I’m not sure what New York City has against musicians playing in public, but handcuffing them seems to be the opposite of freedom.

I wonder what our politicians would have to say about New York and musicians in the park, because, of course, they all cherish freedom and the Founding Fathers and all that.

In fact, politicians love the Founding Fathers so much, they quote them all the time. Which is fine. Except when they misquote them.

And, as the Washington Post pointed out recently, they misquote the founders a lot. Take President Obama. He often quotes from the opening of the Declaration of Independence, the Post notes, and sometimes omits three words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But the Declaration reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, … that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights …”

Republicans love to point out the omission, but they themselves sometimes have trouble with quoting the founders. According to the Post, in a speech, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said, “As Jefferson said, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The Post notes that researchers say Jefferson never uttered those words and that they first appeared in 1838. Jefferson died in 1826.

Jefferson isn’t the only founder to be misquoted. The Post reports that Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said, “President George Washington said that the right to keep and bear arms is ‘the most effectual means of preserving peace,’ ”

What Washington actually said was, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”

Oh, well.

So happy birthday, America, tardy liberty for all and misquotes and all.


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