Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrate the Fourth with Another History Lesson

Or Conservative Women – The Best Thing to Happen to American History?

Forget Sarah Palin.

Thank you Michele Bachmann.

Congresswoman Bachmann recently said John Quincy Adams and our other founding fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery. George Stephanopoulos reminded Bachman, and all of us, that slavery didn’t end until the Civil War, so the founding fathers couldn’t have been doing much to end that peculiar institution. Stephanopoulos also schooled Bachmann on the cast of founding fathers. John Adams, yes; John Quincy Adams, no.

John Quincy Adams was the son of a founding father and the sixth president of the United States, who, after his term as president was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He railed against slavery and successfully upheld the release of a group of slaves who mutinied on the Spanish slave ship, Amistad, arguing that the Africans had been illegally detained. But he was not a founding father.

When Bachmann asserted that once immigrants arrived in the United States “everybody was the same,” Anderson Cooper reminded us, "Irish immigrants didn't feel the same walking past storefronts with signs reading 'No Irish need not apply.' Japanese Americans didn't feel the same when they were placed in internment camps during World War II. And, of course, enslaved Africans certainly didn't feel the same when they were brought here against their will." True enough.

But isn’t the “we are a nation of immigrants” line something all politicians say? “We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants – a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s precepts. That’s why millions of people, ancestors to most of us, braved hardship and great risk to come here – so they could be free to work and worship and live their lives in peace. The Asian immigrants who made their way to California’s Angel Island. The Germans and Scandinavians who settled across the Midwest. The waves of the Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish immigrants who leaned against the railing to catch that first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.” Cooper didn’t school the president when he made these remarks, and why should he? As Americans we know what President Obama and Congresswoman Bachmann meant: America is the land of opportunity.

There is not enough space in cyperspace to debate all the issues surrounding the founding fathers and slavery. Yes, there were slaveholders among them, and yes, holding one human in bondage to another is the worst stain our flag has endured. But one has to wonder if “working tirelessly” only counts when politicians accomplish something. Look at our current congress, those men and women who are working tirelessly to produce a budget and get America working again, while at the same time failing miserably.

On Independence Day Congress, like every other American, should be celebrating our independence by goofing off at the local VFW pancake breakfast, before they hunker down on the curb to watch the 4th of July parade commemorating the spirit that led our forefathers to end slavery and our ancestors to make that arduous trip to America. Tonight when you stretch out under the night sky watching the rocket’s red glare as fireworks arc overhead, remember those that worked, and those that are still working, to keep us free.

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