For me, like it is for many Americans — July 4th is an occasion of reflection that is not all about touting the benevolence, exceptionalism, the greatness, and the magnificence of America.
I write as one who believes wholly and fully that the United States of America is far and away — and that we should tout this — the most benevolent, the most exceptional, the greatest, and the most magnificent nation on earth.
Far and away.
Yet things need to be put in perspective. For in putting things in perspective, and in admitting and recognizing our faults — while also celebrating our victories and what makes us benevolent, exceptional, great, and magnificent — we more credibly describe and attest to why July 4th is the launch pad for what Abraham Lincoln described as the “last best hope of earth.”
Oh, man — love that language, the “last best hope of earth.”
Staying with the subject of language, and of beautiful and important language — and of putting the entirety of the American experience and July 4th in perspective — I enthusiastically recommend to you the speech that Frederick Douglass, African-American, self emancipated slave, and eminent and heroic advocate and evangelist for freedom, delivered on July 5th, 1852 at Corinthians Hall in Rochester, NY.
Click here to read the text of Frederick Douglass’s speech.
By the way, Frederick Douglass spent time and lived in Massachusetts; he lived in New Bedford for a while. His son, Frederick Douglass, Jr., was the first recruit of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the all black Union unit — whose story was told in the movie Glory — that fought so heroically and capably to preserve the republic.
A Feb. 6, 2010 Enterprise newspaper story titled Six notable African-Americans with ties to the Brockton area described the connection between Frederick Douglass and the Massachusetts 54th in the local area; here is an excerpt from the story:
1. Frederick Douglass: During the pre-Civil War period, this former slave and renowned 19th century abolitionist spoke to people gathered under what came to be known as the Liberty Tree on High Street in downtown Brockton. The city renamed it Frederick Douglass Avenue in May 2004 in events attended by his descendant, Frederick Douglass IV. In December 2004, the storm-damaged Liberty Tree was taken down and later a plaque was dedicated there
2 Jacob Talbot: This African-American farmer from West Bridgewater donned a Union uniform and stepped into history when he enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, the first regiment of black Civil War soldiers.
You might ask me why on this hallowed of American holidays that I would throw even a smidgen of discord and hiccup into the wave of patriotism and euphoria that attends the “Birthday of America.”
I do it because I love this country so much — and feel passionately that the vast majority of our people, me included, do not come close to appreciating how wonderful it is here.
I love that we are a “Nation of Nations” — I love that we are the “Melting Pot.”
I love that our national motto is “E Pluribus Unum” — which is Latin for “Out of many, one.”
I love that America is so strong and so exceptional and such a vessel of hope and opportunity that it can be subject to and whether storms of criticism, vitriol, and assault — and it emerges, always, as the “last best hope of earth.”
I love America, and I know we are Number 1 – but I also know we can become much better.
And I know that I cannot, ever, hope to give to my country even a small percentage of what it has given to me.
But I intend to honor it, always.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!