Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Stateside with Rosalea : Freedom's Chimes Flashing

I gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Dabbing at my patriotic eyes as the marching bands play and the fireworks flash, I notice that the Kleenex I'm using comes from a "format de poche". I guess I bought that "pocket pack" on my trip to Canada. It's a nice little reminder of how things came to such a pretty pass 225 years ago in a bunch of British colonies perched along one edge of a gigantic storecupboard of nature's bounty. With the French threat largely in abeyance, the inhabitants of the 13 colonies in North America, on being asked by Britain to start paying for the cost of the war, decided they'd already paid enough.

Make no mistake, the Declaration of Independence that was nutted out in Philadelphia and agreed to on 4 July 1776 was as much about commerce as it was about the high ideals it so nobly encapsulates in the section beginning: "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." The next section is a long list of Charges Against the King and Parliament, most of them to do with taxes, the manipulation or outright suspension of the colonies' own legal systems, the use of troops to protect Britain's commercial and imperial interests, and the seizing of the colonists' main means of trade - their shipping.

When I first read that list I couldn't help but wonder yet again how the united states wrote themselves a constitution that resulted in the election of a king every four years. Consider these items: "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.... He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.... He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power." But in 1776 a constitution was still in the future.

The Statement of Separation is the next section in the Declaration, and it's here that I clearly see my mistake in thinking that the states of America are like provinces or counties. The signatories of the Declaration represented "these United Colonies" which "are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES", further declaring "that they are Absolved from all obligation to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved..."

In unison, these 13 British colonies on the continent of North America declare themselves - each and every one - independent states. Having decided on that course of action, the men who met and ratified the Declaration of Independence called themselves the representatives of the united states of America - that being an entity in the same way the United Nations or the European Union is an entity. In 1776 "the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" was not in any way, shape or form a single nation the way we think of it today. Nor was there any intention that it should be.

Why is the distinction between "united states" and "United States" important? It's important because, frankly, it's a bloomin' miracle that this one nation exists. And it exists despite having later created a constitution that set about to undermine the very principles the Declaration of Independence lauded, and despite its signatories having missed two important opportunities. Firstly, they took out Jefferson's listing of slavery among the evils that the British monarchy had foisted upon its American colonies. Secondly - as shown by these extracts from letters sent by Abigail Adams to a friend and to her husband John, one of the co-writers of the Declaration - they ignored the status of women.

Describing a letter she wrote to John in March 1776, Abigail tells her friend: "I thought it was very probable our wise Statesmen would erect a New Government and form a new code of Laws. I ventured to speak a word on behalf of our Sex, who are rather hardly dealt with by the Laws of England which gives such unlimited power to the Husband to use his wife Ill. I requested that our Legislators would consider our case and as all Men of Delicacy and Sentiment are adverse to Exercising the power they possess, yet as there is a natural propensity in Human Nature to domination, I thought the most generous plan was to put it out of the power of the Arbitrary and tyranick to injure us with impunity by Establishing some Laws in favour upon just and Liberal principals. ... In return he tells me he cannot but Laugh at my extraordinary Code of Laws." And to her husband she wrote, in May 1776: "I can not say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives."

It was John Adams who said that the signing of the Declaration of Independence should be celebrated with pomp, parades, bonfires and illuminations. That is why it's a public holiday and marching bands play and there are huge fireworks displays. I watched three at once from my roof last year - San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley - but this year I decided to watch the nationally televised events. In New York (NBC) and in Washington (PBS) it rained, and the festivities had a decidedly soggy air.

But for ABC in Philadelphia, where a nationwide tour of one of the original unsigned copies of the Declaration was being kicked off, the rain held off long enough for the Declaration to be read aloud, as it was meant to be read. First, Blue Man Group provided the percussion for the national anthem, Garth Brooks sang that "when the skies and the ocean are clean again, we shall be free," and Morgan Freeman said that the real glory of the Declaration is the efforts to close the gap between the ideals and the realities. Then the Declaration of Independence was read aloud by an assortment of celebrities.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The United States Government doesn't have to worry about that prospect these days, I shouldn't think. The million people assembled at Philly for the TV broadcast cheered not for the words, but for whoever was their favourite celebrity reading it. Perhaps prophetically, it was an Australian - Mel Gibson - who got the biggest cheer.

And entirely coincidentally - but remarked upon in several news bulletins later in the week - thirteen people were struck by lightning in the continental United States on 4 July 2001. Howzat for the chimes of freedom flashing!

Lea Barker
Saturday, July 7 2001

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news