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Stateside with Rosalea: Taking liberties


Stateside with Rosalea

Taking liberties

By Rosalea Barker

It's a lovely long weekend here, with Friday being the 4th of July or Independence Day. This most important national holiday commemorates the Declaration of Independence in 1776, an event usually referred to as the beginning of the nation. It wasn't.

Yes, yes. I know that the statement of separation starts: WE, THEREFORE, the REPRESENTATIVES of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.... But it is declaring that the colonies are independent not just of Great Britain but of each other. The articles of confederation didn't come along until 1781, a compact made necessary by those spiny old British not just throwing their hands up in the air and saying: Oh well, have it your way then!

Heck, even Canada could have joined in 1781 according to Article XI: Canada acceding to this confederation, and joining in the measures of the united states, shall be admitted into, and entitled to all the advantages of this union; but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine states.

And, according to the articles of confederation, the congress of the united states could sit at any time of year in any place, so long as it did so at least once every six months and published a journal of its proceedings, available for the delegates to take back to their state legislatures. There was no president.

The Constitution wasn't drafted until 1787, and it doesn't have a national holiday. It doesn't have to, because, of course, for all the fine intentions of having a loose federation of several states, there were forces already at work in 1776 who saw the advantages of the accretion of power in the hands of a centralised government. That is the only sense in which the Declaration of Independence created "a great Nation", as the President's Independence Day message would have us believe.

A non-partisan non-profit organisation called Constitution Day, Inc. has celebrated September 17 for the past six years. This year at 4pm EDT - the time the Founding Fathers adjourned the Constitutional Convention in 1787 - it has organised a joint celebration for the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance. According to the organisation's website: The celebration ends at the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that begins the "Ringing of Bells Across America" to honor the first amendment, Freedom of Religion.

Ahh, freedom! If I heard the word once on Friday, I heard it 10,000 times. But freedom isn't what the Declaration of Independence was about - it was about liberty. You might think the two are the same thing, and indeed the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary says that freedom and liberty are synonyms for the power or condition of acting without compulsion. However, it also says: "Freedom has a broad range of application from total absence of restraint to merely a sense of not being unduly hampered or frustrated. Liberty suggests release from former restraint or compulsion."

So long as people don't believe they are under any restraint or compulsion, and generally feel like they're not being unduly hampered or frustrated, they will believe they're free. Is there any restraint or compulsion here in the United States? You be the judge!

In the first paragraph of his presidential message on Friday, Bush glossed from "a hopeful vision of liberty and equality that endures today" to "the ideals of freedom and opportunity that our Nation holds dear." I think that "liberty and equality" are to "freedom and opportunity" as wild pork is to its factory-raised, supermarket-sold counterpart.

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