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Heroism and “Our Independence and the Constitution”
Heroism and “Our Independence and the Constitution”

Heroism and “Our Independence and the Constitution”

Another good scene (a third is below) from the Landmark Book Our Independence and the Constitution by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, published by Random House, New York, (c) 1950, is this one from the beginning of the book (p. 20):
Once a tiny little girl who lived on Dr. Franklin’s street looked up from the sand pile where she was playing and saw that the short, broad, stooped old doctor and the slim, tall, young delegate had stopped beside her.  Smiling pleasantly, Mr. Jefferson leaned down to pat her head. “I have a little daughter at home, just about your size,” he said. “She has hair just the color of yours. Her name’s Patty. What’s yours?” “Debby,” said the child, not much interested. People were always saying they had little girls at home “just your size.” But after they walked on, Debby’s two big brothers came pelting out from their house to say, “That was Mr. Jefferson and old Dr. Franklin! They spoke to you. Don’t you ever forget that!”
Such hero-worship of the Founding Fathers is proper, honest, and an act of justice. Today, in contrast, the Founding Fathers are too often targets of derision, hate, slander and libel. Are those judgments fair or unfair, honest or dishonest? How do you know? Can you prove it? What is your evidence and your reasoning? And you cannot judge the Founding Fathers based on modern standards any more than you can condemn an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh for not establishing a free country or any more than you can condemn a 35-year-old for something she did when 3 or 4. What did the Founding Fathers do in their historical context? What happened in human history before the Founding Fathers? What ideas and moral values did the Founding Fathers act on? Which ideas and values were — in fact, not in gossip or bad history — the driving forces of their lives? What were the good things and the bad things about the Founding Fathers? What were the consequences of the ideas they formulated and what was the Founding Fathers’ legacy? What is your evidence and reasoning? The Founding Fathers would have been hung, drawn and quartered if caught by the British. Look that punishment up sometime. Would you put yourself at risk of such a punishment to fight for freedom and individual rights? That is, to fight for the only social-economic-political principle in history that has let people be happy and free? The Founding Fathers did; they put their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” at risk to fight for natural, inalienable, individual rights for all men. And look up the history of the world before the Founding Fathers. The history of the world was mostly a history of rule by violence/force and of universal slavery among men until the Founding Fathers identified that John Locke’s idea of natural rights applied to all men, all human beings, not just the citizens of a given “country” (like England or Rome); until the Founding Fathers established the first government in history dedicated to the principle of natural, individual rights and to the idea of each person as a self-sovereign rational being; until the Founding Fathers identified and put into practice the only principles which history shows to wipe out slavery and racism. What’s more, wasn’t every country or most every country before the US founded on conquest or force? Wasn’t the United States of America the first country to be founded on an idea, on a principle — didn’t the war against Britain come after the Declaration of Independence? If not for the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, and the Constitutional Convention — or some people somewhere akin to the Founding Fathers in spirit, philosophy, courage and conviction — the world would still be stuck in tribalism, monarchy and theocracy. But you have to draw a conclusion on your own, of course. Do your own research, do your own reasoning, make your own judgment. Another good excerpt from Our Independence is on pp. 72-74. This excerpt is about the ideas behind the Revolution, not about the Founding Fathers. Mrs. Canfield writes:
On the way home, none of them [the father and the two brothers] said a word. They went slowly. They were not anxious to reach the house. As they approached it, they saw that candles had been lighted in the front room. And the curtains had not been drawn together! Their mother always drew the curtains or closed the shutters before she lighted a candle. Everybody did in those days. Through the unveiled windows they could see that someone was pacing rapidly to and fro in the room. Startled, the boys ran to fling open the door. What they saw froze them, half in, half out of their home. Their mother was not sitting down with her mending, as she often was, after Debby was in bed. With long steps, she was striding away from them, her back to the door. She heard them coming, and spun around to face them. How tall she looked! They had never seen her look so tall. The instant she saw them she began to speak. They would not have known her voice. It was like a trumpet sounding a call. Yet it was not loud. They halted in their tracks, too appalled to move. “While you were gone, news came in,” she told them in that strange, low, sharp voice that sent shivers up their backs. “You must hear it, too. Express riders are in from New York. They say an enormous fleet of British warships has come into that harbor. They are bringing a tremendous army. All the British regulars who were shut up in Boston. Other regulars. And thousands and thousands of German soldiers! More than a million dollars of British tax-payers’ money is to be paid for their hire.” Her voice deepened, darkened. “And the King, our English King, is not just sending soldiers to fight our soldiers. He is going to use the wild Indians to attack us, just as the French did.” She was trembling now. Her burning eyes showed that it was from anger, not fear. “It makes me ashamed,” she cried, “to have been a subject of a King who will do that. Why, what have we done to have him want to burn our houses and slaughter our children! We have disagreed with him about taxes. The quarrel is about money! Would I, if I could, send shrieking bands of Iroquois along the country roads in England, to scalp the women and butcher the babies, just to get the better of them in a quarrel about taxes! I’d die before I would. And so would any decent person.” She flung back her head — she towered up taller. “The King won’t even read our petitions to send people to arrange this in peace. But he answers them. His answer is to send in the biggest army that ever crossed the ocean to kill us, and the biggest fleet to burn what’s left of our seacoast cities.” She flung out her arm and cried, “He thinks he can scare us into taking less than our legal rights. Why, he’s just a bully!” Stepping close to her husband, she cried, “Now we must never give up, never! Never! Now the Congress must vote for independence. Now they will!” She turned to her sons, who were gaping, frightened by her, but stirred to their hearts. “Boys, nobody must ever give in to a bully because he has a big club! This is more than a quarrel between two countries. It’s between what makes life worth living, and what makes you ashamed to be alive. In that fight, if the bullies come out on top just because they are strong, it will be shame, shame for everybody — everywhere, forever! Never forget that, my sons!” They ran to her now, they put their arms around her. She felt as strong as a pillar. Over their heads, she said to her husband passionately, “If I could, I’d shoulder a musket and go out to fight alongside you.” … “Well–!” said their father. He hadn’t even taken his hat off yet. He did now. Holding it in his hand, he bowed before his wife, lifted her hand in his, and kissed her fingers.
Wow. Pause to take it all in… There’s some moral clarity for you. There’s some hero-worship and some “worship” of great ideas and values. Our Independence and the Constitution by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is a story well worth reading. And it’s a more objective presentation of the American Revolution and its meaning than you’ll find in much of modern history. Why does Mrs. Fisher present the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers positively, but much modern history presents them neutrally or negatively? What are their motives? What are the reasons for what they say? A caveat to Our Independence: The author, Mrs. Canfield, is no philosopher or theoretician of politics or economics. So, she seems to get some things wrong. She does not seem to grasp the importance of property rights. Without property rights, we cannot put any of our other rights into practice. Having the “freedom” to think and believe whatever you want as long as you keep your thoughts in your own head and do not act on them is no freedom; it is captivity. Does not having the right to property — the right to control and dispose of your house, car, clothes, food, money, savings, cell phone, couch, movie collection, books, pens, paper, computer, Facebook profile — affect your right to speech, liberty, life, and happiness? Yes, the Founding Fathers were against wealth and privilege of the nobility in a monarchy, but they were not against wealth and they did not denigrate or disappreciate property. The Founding Fathers wanted a political-economic system that would protect the property and wealth of an individual when it was begotten through hard work or fair trade with another individual; they did not want to protect or make possible wealth obtained by using government force, favors, privilege or position. Mrs. Canfield also gets off base in having the mother say “We have disagreed with [the King] about taxes. The quarrel is about money!” Wrong. I understand that the mother is just a character in the book, but she is supposed to be summing up what is going on in world affairs, not giving her own view. That is the purpose of her speech at that point in the book — as I remember it; I have not read the book in a long, long time. The “quarrel” was about the divine right of kings vs. the natural, individual rights of Americans. It was the concept of monarchy picking a fight with the concept of a constitutional republic based on individual rights. The King did not send an army over to the Americas only to get taxes he wanted (there’s a real “Robber Baron” for you!!); he sent an army over to the Americas to subjugate the people in diverse aspects of life and he sent an army over to put force behind his demand that Americans obey the divine right of Kings. In spite of some faults, Our Independence is a very good story. It shows a respect for ideas, a respect for rights, a respect for and worship of the American Revolution in historical context, and a respect for and worship of the Founding Fathers. Recommended. Note: You can find Landmark books for sale on Readingwell.com, Seriesbooks.com, and Abebooks.com.

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