Independence Day

Awaiting_FireworksWell, we have arrived back at July 4th, Independence Day here is the U.S.. Last night we wandered down to the lake and enjoyed a lovely evening, complete with fireworks. Keeping with the revolutionary theme of the day, the revolution began on the 3rd, we even managed a conversation with a colleague about disability rights and activism.

This is, I suspect, a vastly misunderstood holiday, being anything but straightforward. It is also a much appreciated day off for many people.

As far as I can tell, the War of Independence was a contest between a rag-tag group of fighters with territorial dreams, and a major world power. It was fought over the colonists desire to keep their tax money at home, their wish to maintain the slave trade, and perhaps, most of all, their dreams of westward expansion, aspirations the British were attempting to block.

Not all of the Founding Fathers supported these agendas; Alexander Hamilton, for instance, argued for peaceful coexistence with Natives and for the humanity of Blacks. On the other hand, some Native communities made a living trading slaves, including other Natives. Most Natives were encouraged to leave the colonies and join their own kind somewhere else, even those who had lived on communal land for several hundred years before the arrival of the colonists.

This year, with the idea of a tax revolt firmly in place, and U.S. dreams of empire in disarray, we find ourselves surrounded by metaphors that draw on the War of Independence, some of which are quite apt. The colonists were used to almost impassable roads, filled with ruts and potholes, and would surely have rejected higher taxes to make them usable. Healthcare was, for the most part dreadful, not always affordable, and often not readily available. Those with access to food and good shelter lived longer, and an abundance of cheap labor supported a healthy and abundant lifestyle; flouting one’s wealth and status was quietly encouraged, leading to many stately homes and mansions, often gated.

The annexation of Spanish-speaking lands was not yet on the agenda, but immigration certainly was. Most of the immigrants were English speakers, and Dutch and German-speaking communities had largely accepted the notion that English would be the official language of the new country. Intermarriage between ethnic and racial groups was problematic, although quite common in areas west and south of the colonies, and on their margins. Sexual behavior was a matter of much discussion and occasional sanctions, the influence of the Puritans being felt, if no longer quite accepted. Outhouses, when available, were usually a discreet distance from dwellings and businesses and were used by all genders, although those with multiple holes might be problematic at times.

Questions of just who was a human being were asked and debated, with women, Natives, and slaves of all colors and sizes generally being excluded from the category. Later, Irish, Italians, and Asians would be added to the list of non-persons, but at the time their influence was largely unfelt, so they were ignored. The environment was a concern, mostly due to perceived overcrowding, but westward expansion into the “empty” regions would solve that. Questions were raised about how those new lands might be distributed, but there was general agreement that these “common lands” would be given to European settlers who were willing to develop them.

Well, that was then and now is now, right? Anyway, I need to head out the door or we’ll be late for the outhouse races and parade.



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