Renew your freedom

By Phil Plait | July 4, 2010 7:00 am

Every year on this date, I take a few minutes and read The Declaration of Independence*. For my money, it’s one of the greatest documents ever written in the English language.

I know not all of my readers are Americans. Even if you’re not, the Declaration is a fantastic work and you should read it. And if you have the time — and you should make the time — read The Bill of Rights, too. You may not be from a country with the same laws we do, the same values we do, or the same attitudes we do, but the Founders of the United States of America had some pretty good ideas about what the citizens have the right to do, and what the government does not.

Living up to those ideas, those ideals, is what America is about. These freedoms are not given, they are earned, and must always be protected. Remember:

Happy 234th, America.



* I was not surprised at all to find out that Adam Savage has the same tradition.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (96)

  1. John Paradox

    I have the Declaration and the Constitution (including Bill Of Rights) in pseudo-parchment on the living room wall. I read it somewhat irregularly, but this would be a good time.. maybe also read the Federalist Papers.

    J/P=?

  2. I very much enjoyed this post about the Squirrel Nebula.

    Perhaps I should eat something. Whee!

  3. Gary Ansorge

    I can’t wait to celebrate our wonderful heritage tonight by blowing up something(fireworks are so much fun).

    2. Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Ah, eating something. Would that be the good old time squirrel chili?

    Gary 7

  4. Thee Desecrator

    Yeah, but how many here are gonna be all, “well, I don’t know about that 2nd one?”

  5. Bob_In_Wales

    Now might also be a good time to re-read this from a few years ago:
    http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/d/declarationrevocation.htm

  6. And it’s written in British English.

    /me rins

  7. Zucchi

    I think it’s a good thing we started our country by setting such a high bar, even if we didn’t really mean it. We put the “created equal” thing on the back burner for a century of slavery and genocide, but nevertheless we’ve gradually crept towards those ideals, moving in fits and starts, sometimes backsliding.

    Personally, I celebrate the Fourth by refusing to quarter British soldiers in my home. Tired of being pushed around by goddamn redcoats.

  8. DaveH

    @ Zucchi #5,

    Personally, I celebrate the Fourth by refusing to quarter British soldiers in my home. Tired of being pushed around by goddamn redcoats.

    Ha. :-)

    …I only found out the other week that the US National anthem is about a battle with the British. Still not as inappropriate to modern life as the British anthem, though.

    Unlike the Declaration of Independence, which although it too has its dated passages, indeed set the bar high.

  9. When I was a kid we had a Bill Cosby record and one of his bits was something along the lines of “What if everything had referees?”

    I don’t remember which album it was. One album was “Why is there Air” as I recall.

    Anyway, in that bit he has Cornwallis and Washington call a coin toss. Washington wins and says that the British have to wear bright red coats and march in a straight line. The colonists get to wear anything they want and hide behind rocks and trees.

    I’ve looked for it several times on YouTube but can’t find it. I’m sure he did it live somewhere.

  10. Thorne

    The album was “Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow, Right!”
    The bit was called “The Coin Toss” and you can hear it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MGYoCNU5es&feature=player_embedded

  11. read The Bill of Rights, too

    For those who might like a portable version for their PDA/smartphone/iPad/whatever, here’s an ePUB version of the US constitution.

  12. JMW

    @5 Zucchi: I think it’s a good thing we started our country by setting such a high bar, even if we didn’t really mean it.

    Sadly, it is easier to fight for one’s principles than it is to live up to them.

  13. Ron

    @ 4. Svip Says:

    “And it’s written in British English.”

    Since the Decleration was written before the 4th of July, and the country didn’t become independent of Britain until the 4th (hence, the name of the holiday), and we were all British at the time, what would you have expected it to be written in? Sanskrit?

    @6. DaveH Says:

    “…I only found out the other week that the US National anthem is about a battle with the British. Still not as inappropriate to modern life as the British anthem, though.”

    Try reading the words to the anthem. It’s not about the battle. It’s about the flag. The symbol of the country. Why would you choose today of all days to insult either one of them? Maybe because it was written in American English?

  14. Paul in Sweden

    Happy 4th Phil, Good post.

    We get ’60 Minutes’ here in Sweden on a delayed broadcast schedule. Andy Rooney had his segment on the comparison of the old citizen test and the new citizen test. I was somewhat surprised to find that one of the questions regarding the Declaration of Independence on the old test that Andy pointed out was replaced with a question regarding the Federalist Papers.

    My absence from America has been prolonged but my love for America never fades. I was however shocked with myself that I was unable to answer one of the questions that every new applicant for US citizenship must answer:

    Q. How many members are there in the House of Representatives?

    Happy 4th of July to all you lucky people back home in the States. You live in the greatest country in the world. :)

    Let the fireworks fly!

  15. DaveH

    @10 Ron,

    Why would you choose today of all days to insult either one of them?

    I would “insult” the British National Anthem (“criticize” would be a better word since it isn’t a person) on ANY given day, because frankly it is pants. In Britain, it is not generally considered unpatriotic to be an atheist, for one thing. A made-up skyman saving the nominal head of state is not the defining point of Britishness.

    The Star Spangled Banner is about the flag flying throughout a battle with the British. The title of the poem the lyrics come from is “The Defence of Fort McHenry”.

    Maybe because it was written in American English?
    lolwut?

  16. WJM

    Q. How many members are there in the House of Representatives?

    Even this non-Murrican knows that answer!

    What do I win?

  17. Adrian Lopez

    The Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights are indeed worthy of celebration. It’s just too bad the government itself often fails to live up to the ideals expressed therein.

  18. Marge

    Thank God we have freedom! God Bless this wonderful county and the troops who serve her valiantly.

  19. Will

    I particularly enjoy their reference to Congress’ “manly firmness”. Heroic.

  20. Utakata

    …um…accept they may not be a god to bless them, Marge @ 19. Evidence is suggesting there isn’t.

    And what about doctors, nurses, firemen and women, paramedics, teachers, scientists, janitors and so forth who server your country day in and day out…without actually having to kill anyone to do it? Do they not get the same respect if not more?

  21. Peter

    @14, Ron

    I’ve never quite understood the flag-fixation of my fellow Americans.
    It’s nothing but a colored piece of cloth!

    Yes, of course, it is an American symbol – maybe even *the* American
    symbol (although, today, that’s probably Coca-Cola or McDonald’s).

    But to worship those easily replaceble inanimate objects to the point
    that soldiers risk their lives to “rescue” one of them insted of themselves
    and their comrades simply boggles my mind.

    Respect the ideals it stands for, revere and defend the constitution – I’m all for it.
    In fact, we need more of that. But stop idolizing a mere symbol.

    I wonder if there’s a correlation between flag worshipping and god worshipping…

  22. Jeffersonian

    It may sound smarmy but when I went to DC and saw the actual document my eyes moistened. The chutzpah those dudes had telling Georgie to stuff it! Can you imagine?

    The Bill of Rights is cool but of an entirely different vintage and purpose from the D of I. Different topic entirely.

  23. Theron

    If you really want to grasp the genius of the Declaration, the piece by Stephen Lucas “The Stylistic Artistry of the Declaration of Independence” is a must-read. It’s really an extraordinary essay.

    http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_style.html

  24. Bruce

    The fourth stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

    O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

  25. A click on my name above will take you to my little blog, where my friend Dave Miller has allowed me to reprint his essay on the Texas Taliban and their fear of Mr. Jefferson.
    Worth a read y’all!
    Happy 4th!
    ****** BOOM ******

  26. QuietDesperation

    Just not feeling it this year. :(

  27. My sincere congratulations, Americans! I’ll make sure to read your constitutional documents . Thanks to this article I realized I had never done so.

    Jules (the Netherlands)

  28. Lucas

    @24, Peter

    You sound awesome at parties. Some people show patriotism by hanging a flag outside. Some people don’t. Why does it bother you so much?

  29. justcorbly

    @14, Ron: Just to clarify, the Continental Congress voted on July 2 to declare independence, so independence actually dates to that day, not the 4th. The Declaration was issued on the 4th to explain why Congress had voted for independence. Of course, all this had been in the works for several weeks. Jefferson did not just pop back to his Philadelphia hotel and write the Declaration over night.

    On flag display: I’d argue that there is a correlation between flag display and the relative youth of a country. I.e., the younger the country, the more likely individual citizens are to display their flag. (Many of the flags displayed in the U.S. are displayed by businesses for business purposes.) The UK is an old country, the U.S. is a young country. For example, the founding of Great Britain is a millenium or more distant from today’s Britons. The founding of the U.S. is not so far away. My great-grandfather served in the Civil War and was only two generations removed from relatives who served in the Revolution or the War of 1812.

  30. I’ve not only read the Declaration, last year I actually translated it into modern-day American English. Behold!:

    http://arikrice.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/declaration-of-independence/

    It’s one thing to read it, but having to digest it and rewrite the meaning of it in your own words makes you truly appreciate it.

  31. Cambrico

    Extraordinary documents. In the declaration of Independence, change “He”, refering to the British King, by the name of any of the several goons and “great leaders” in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and you get that the definition of tyrant is as accurate today as it was in 1776.

  32. Brian Hart

    Wow, I always hear the phrase “We the People” in my heard, with the Shatner cadence used in “The Omega Glory”. It makes it, somehow, more dramatic.

  33. Travis Bear

    Every year the good folks at NPR read the (entire) declaration on-air. It’s awesome, give it a listen:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/player/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=128242656&m=128260011

    If you want to read along (or put faces to the voices), here’s the link:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128242656

  34. “…not all of my readers are Americans. Even if you’re not, the Declaration is a fantastic work and you should read it.”

    Ever read the Magna Carta? Didn’t think so. Great document.

  35. Cindy

    I remember my US History teacher had the class read the preamble to the Bill of Rights out loud. After saying “We the people” in a normal voice, the entire class except the exchange student from Spain broke into the song from Schoolhouse Rock. The Spanish student and the teacher were very confused until we explained.

    And I remember when I learned the words to the “Star Spangled Banner” in second grade being very confused about the line “rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air” because all I could imagine was a Saturn V rocket exploding and that wouldn’t have been very good (it was around 1974).

    Later on, when I lived in Baltimore and would row in the morning, there were many times when I would be rounding the point by Ft. McHenry right around sunrise and see the large American flag there. If I ignored the rest of the harbor, I could almost imagine what it was like for Francis Scott Key.

  36. I watched “1776” this afternoon for the umpty-umpth time. It still tears me up.

    But then there’s this:

    “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

  37. Luke

    35, factician:
    “Ever read the Magna Carta? Didn’t think so. Great document.”

    Many, if not most school children here in the U.S. also learn about the Magna Carta. It’s widely recognized as an ancestor of sorts to our Constitution. We have a copy on display in the Capitol Building for this very reason. Why wouldn’t you think Phil has read it?

    The DoI is also a great document, a fantastic quick read.

  38. Levi in NY

    It’s also Bob Novella’s birthday today! Happy birthday, America and Bob!

  39. keplerlover

    One of the very greatest things about The United States is that our freedoms ARE GIVEN, contrary to the B.A.’s post. With that great gift comes the OBLIGATION to protect them for EVERYONE, FOREVER.

  40. Glenn Beck

    “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good… He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither… He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power… ”

    The Founding Fathers were a bunch of damn pro-Statist, pro-immigration, anti-troop commies!

  41. James

    Sorry I’m not impressed, it starts with some nonsense about god, then goes into a big long rant about why they hate the king.

  42. I am not impressed either. Democracy and human rights didn’t evolve much ever since ancient Greeks. We still have politicians, political parties and outdated way of government. Why would I vote for somebody that later votes for a law in my behalf, when now I can do it myself by using my mobile phone?

    Declarations are just like a bible, theory that very differs from reality. People are much more dependent on their financial situation then declared by any law or document. The amount of freedom you have is directly proportional to the width of your wallet. Sad true.

    http://www.facebook.com/zmilan?v=app_2347471856#!/note.php?note_id=139553359932

  43. Jeeves

    Didn’t want to post this on the day itself, but I think this:

    “I know not all of my readers are Americans. Even if you’re not, the Declaration is a fantastic work and you should read it. And if you have the time — and you should make the time — read The Bill of Rights, too. You may not be from a country with the same laws we do, the same values we do, or the same attitudes we do, but the Founders of the United States of America had some pretty good ideas about what the citizens have the right to do, and what the government does not.”

    … is an aspect of America that I don’t like. The implied “We got it right, and if you pay attention you might learn something” just rubs me the wrong way. My country (.nl) doesn’t have a Declaration of Independence, or a Bill of Rights, but it’s still pretty good, thank you very much. I dare say some of our laws are actually better than yours. America isn’t the only country that’s good for its people. It may not even – gasp! – be the best. Other people have had good ideas too.

  44. Sorry to rain on your parade Phil, but I can only conclude that the DOI is a typical piece of American hypocrisy – the father of modern American hypocrisy.

    How can a group of slave holders honestly claim that they believe that all men are created equal? How can a nation who’s army slaughters innocent civilians uncounted yet gives great honour to every dead soldier honestly claim to believe that all men are created equal.

    It seems to me that what Jefferson et al really meant to say is that all white Americans men of European descent are created equal and are superior to the the rest of humankind.

  45. Wanton

    It would be great if people realized the oligarchy that puts nice words in print but not in practice. Or maybe if its soldiers fought to actually defend its principles, rather than enforce the same sort of tyrannical rule the world; rule so terrible that it was our duty as a people to abolish it.

  46. Wanton

    [mod please delete previous comment. could not edit]
    It would be great if people realized the gluttonous oligarchy that puts nice words in print but not in practice. It would be great if its soldiers fought to actually defend its principles, rather than enforce the same sort of tyrannical rule in its own empire. Furthermore, often mislabeling and employing euphemisms to muddle its true aims. (Department of War renamed to Department of Defense, etc.)

  47. john bennetts

    Thanks, Phil. Kinda reminds me of the fact that there is very strong opposition in Australia from certain quarters to a Bill of Rights.

    Consequently, Aussies have no general guarantee of personal rights.

    Mine is a great country, but there’s always room for improvement.

  48. What about the second amendment? Is it a coincidence that almost anyone can buy a gun
    in the US and that the number of murders in the US—many if not most via guns—is higher per population than essentially anywhere else in the world? Is that the price one pays for freedom? If so, tell it to the parents of a child killed by gunshot. Is the sympathy the same as for a child who died because of lack of herd immunity? IIRC, the number of gunshot deaths per year is about 10 times the number of people who died on 9-11.

  49. “… is an aspect of America that I don’t like. The implied “We got it right, and if you pay attention you might learn something” just rubs me the wrong way. My country (.nl) doesn’t have a Declaration of Independence, or a Bill of Rights, but it’s still pretty good, thank you very much. I dare say some of our laws are actually better than yours. America isn’t the only country that’s good for its people. It may not even – gasp! – be the best. Other people have had good ideas too.”.

    Right on. Note that The Netherlands is a country with a long history of tolerance. Galileo published some stuff there, because it was possible. The ancestors of the Pilgrims first went to the Netherlands, where they found religious freedom. But then they left because they couldn’t dictate their idea of religion to the rest of the country. Then they went to America and killed the Indians. OK, a little compressed and exaggerated, but no more so than your patriotic piece.

    Please explain how a country which can allow states to make laws governing which sexual practices are allowed between married consenting adults behind closed doors knows anything about personal freedom.

  50. Sean H

    @8: We have way too many national songs as is but I assumed that was just well known. War of 1812 baby. No one won except Canada for gaining some of Maine and us for our citizens no longer being impressed into foreign military service.

    @45: Read up on Roger Williams before you make assumptions. Killing native peoples definitely wasn’t our finest hour but we’re also the only country that I”m aware of that has a stated seperation of Church and state and a robust free speech clause. There are parts of my country that need to adapt but overall I resent your implication that the United States knows nothing of personal freedom. For one thing we didn’t chemically castrate the man who cracked the Enigma code. That’d be good old fashioned gay-friendly England.

    @44: You’re misinformed. Convicted felons can’t own guns. At all. To do so breaks the law which suggests that criminals *gasp* don’t respect the law. If you look at things like how much of Scandinavia(take home assault rifles from militias) has traditionally allowed for possession of firearms as well as high crime rates in cities which have banned firearms of all types(DC before Heller, Chicago before the recent decision) you often come to the conclusion that there’s a different root of violent crime and said root isn’t about the TOOLS used to commit/protect from said crime. Poverty and racial tension based on the more diverse genii of the United States compared to the same Scandinavian countries seems much more reasonable given the numbers on murders before and after CCP laws pass(the difference is slight and usually goes into the area of less murders).

  51. FWIW…I’m not an American (from Ireland)…who has read it…and, YES, it’s an excellent document.

    Happy ID-day to all
    John

  52. Szwagier

    Arm bears! Arm bears!

  53. “@44: You’re misinformed. Convicted felons can’t own guns. At all. “.

    I did say “almost anyone”. Or are there so many convicted felons that excluding them no longer qualifies as “almost all”?

    Of course, owning guns does not per se cause people to use them for murder. But if, as you say, the tendency to crime is there, then perhaps getting rid of guns would, if not change the mentality, at least soothe the effects somewhat. Of course, the rejoinder is “if guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns”, but this is wrong on two counts. First, it assumes that the average Joe could keep crime in check by shooting before he can be shot. Second, it assumes the government is not able to keep outlaws from having guns. The first is demonstrably false, the second is a quality-of-implementation issue.

    Yes, there are other countries where a large number of people have guns and there is little gun-related crime. However, in most of these cases the guns are used for hunting (and a large fraction of the population hunts, which is not the case in the US) and essentially only hunters own guns (again, not the case in the US).

  54. ” we’re also the only country that I”m aware of that has a stated seperation of Church and state and a robust free speech clause”

    This is simply wrong. There are two issues, of course: separation on paper, and separation in reality. Many European countries have separation in reality, even if not on paper (probably due to lack of need to codify it). Some have it on paper, but not in reality (Turkey is an example, the US another). Of course, many countries have neither. The best example of a country with both is probably France. Note that in France, most people are at least nominally Catholic and some are religious. These days, even the Catholic Church in France thinks the separation is a good idea. Note that it is not a condemnation; it’s just an idea about what is appropriate where. Most Americans probably don’t object to Obama having a happy sex life, but they would think it inappropriate were he to mention it in a speech or, worse, base his policy on it. Similarly, one can be of the opinion that politicians can be religious, but think it inappropriate to mention it in a speech or, worse, base their policy on it.

    Many countries have free speech. Probably none have it absolutely (it’s criminal to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre) and where the line is exactly drawn varies a bit (is hate propaganda protected by free speech? what about calls to commit terrorist acts?), but it is simply wrong to say that the US is the only country with free speech.

    I think what many people object to even though of course there are countries worse than the US is that it is rare for some otherwise sensible person from one of these other countries to state with a straight face that his country is better than the rest of the world.

    “There are parts of my country that need to adapt but overall I resent your implication that the United States knows nothing of personal freedom.”

    What is the reason why laws governing which sexual acts are permissable between married heterosexual consenting adults in private (my own view is more liberal; the point is that even this restricted subset is regulated) are still on the books? Shouldn’t personal freedom start where it is most personal and in an area where it affects no-one else? Of course, the reason is religiously motivated (the old testament says it’s bad, so it is illegal in present-day USA), which is what I mean by lack of separation of church and state in reality.

    “For one thing we didn’t chemically castrate the man who cracked the Enigma code. That’d be good old fashioned gay-friendly England.”

    If you compare countries, compare them at the same time in history.

  55. patriot

    @46: “us for our citizens no longer being impressed into foreign military service”

    Sorry, Sean H, but you need to know something about the history of your provincial side-show of
    a country. The Treaty Of Ghent ending the War of 1812 made no reference to the topic of impressment. Try reading some of your countries’ documents.

    This was probably due to the fact that Britain, with the defeat of Napolean, was no longer impressing sailors – since before the start of the war.

  56. Not only have I read the Magna Carta, I went to the effort of viewing one of the “original” copies of it when I visited the UK. Amazing document.

  57. As a Brit, I say … ‘You’re welcome!’ :D

    If it wasn’t for the (admittedly very poor) way the British government of the time treated the ‘Colonies’ you wouldn’t have had to break away, and things might have been very different for the Americas.

    However, unless you guys buck your ideas up a bit we might just have to rescind your independance. ;)

  58. Christopher Petroni

    I think I laughed as hard as anyone when Sacha Baron Cohen sang his “Kazakhstan national anthem” to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. The Texas rodeo patrons in that scene from “Borat” looked ready to tear him apart, but I think they missed the point: the incredible chauvinism so many Americans bring to their ideas about the relationship of their nation to the rest of the world.

    This chauvinism may inform somewhat the ambivalence some people in this thread are showing to the Declaration of Independence and the American Bill of Rights. So, here are some facts I want to set straight:

    1. The USA is NOT the greatest nation in the world. Obviously. The US leads the world in some areas, sits about average in more, and trails embarassingly behind in too many.

    2. The USA is NOT the only nation to guarantee personal freedoms. Again, obviously. Most Western nations do this now, many to a greater extent than the US. It took the US a century to abolish slavery, until 1920 to extend full rights of citizenship to women, and until the 1960s to make a serious attempt to abolish racial discrimination.

    3. The American Bill of Rights was NOT without precedent. The Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights came before, and the Founders also looked to the political philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and many others.

    The Declaration of Independence is important because it represents the first time in modern history that a group of people stood aside from their nation (from many nations, in fact, as only a third of the colonists were English), and set up, from the beginning, a government limited to those powers granted to it, and a nation guaranteeing fundamental human rights. That was without precedent, and that bears remembering.

  59. Pi-needles

    Never mind (#42.) dave from manchester England – he’s just still bitter his side lost. After all, its only been a few hundred years. You’ve just got to give him more time to get over it! ;-)

    I’d say “happy independence day” to everyone but I’m a day late so not sure if still logically can. ;-)

  60. “The Declaration of Independence is important because it represents the first time in modern history that a group of people stood aside from their nation (from many nations, in fact, as only a third of the colonists were English), and set up, from the beginning, a government limited to those powers granted to it, and a nation guaranteeing fundamental human rights. That was without precedent, and that bears remembering.”

    True enough. I don’t think anyone debates this. The irony, for want of a better word, is that the US is often in the media because of the government overstepping its constitutional rights (Henry Kissinger (paraphrased from memory): “We do illegal stuff right away, the unconstitutional takes a bit longer.”) and because of the lack of guaranteeing fundamental rights, at least in some contexts. Again, there are far worse countries around, but they don’t go around styling themselves a model of virtue. And if the US has departed from its initial better state, then it is no defense to point out this initial better state, any more than it is fair to criticise a good country today just because, many generations ago, the same country was bad. If we give countries a chance to improve (and we should), then by the same token it must be allowed to criticise countries who have slipped down the scale and not allow “George Washington was a good guy” as a defense.

  61. @ 54 wrote:

    What is the reason why laws governing which sexual acts are permissable between married heterosexual consenting adults in private…

    Those laws were rarely enforced, and were declared unconstitutional several years ago.

  62. Americas greatest Achievement

    This is what I think has been America’s greatest ever achievement – as noted in an old BA blog post :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/10/30/and-the-flag-was-still-there/

    Almost forgotten and sometimes derided as literally unreal rather than adjectively so but perhaps as significant as the first fish surviving on land.

    Wonder if the signers of the Declaration of Independence could have ever imagined the nation they formed would do this?

    Thankyou USA may we never forget all the good things you’ve given the planet. Happy Independence Day for yesterday. :-)

    PS. Happy anniversary for the Pathfinder & its first ever Mars exploration rover Sojourner landing on the rusty plains of Mars back on 4th July 1997 too. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Pathfinder )

    PPS. Naturally this judgement of the Greatest Thing the USA has ever done is subjective and my personal opinion. I’m sure there are other achievements on that candidate list too. :-)

  63. Pepijn Schmitz

    I’ve seen this sentiment around the Internet a few times. Adam Savage said the same thing the other day on twitter.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Phil or Adam. And I’m not saying the US isn’t a great country, or that someone can’t extol the virtues of its founding documents.

    But it was *two hundred years ago* when the US was a beacon of freedom in the world and documents like the Declaration were revolutionary. Since then the US and its laws have long been caught up, if not overtaken, by the rest of the western world. And in the US freedom is under attack from all sides and rapidly being curtailed.

    It’s annoying that so many Americans seem to be oblivious to this, and still appear to think that the US is the sole oasis of peace and freedom in the world that it once was. And then proceed to tell everyone about it and imply they should strive to be more like them.

    It’s one of the reasons Americans are often perceived as ignorant and arrogant elsewhere in the world, and it’s disappointing to see people like Phil affected by it, as evidenced by the “I know not all of my readers …” paragraph.

    It really is time for Americans to learn a bit about what the rest of the world is really like, and get over themselves already. ;-) These days it’s one of many great free and democratic countries, none of which is superior in all, or even many, respects to any of the others. If you want evidence of this, just take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_indices_of_freedom

  64. Christopher Petroni

    @63 and 66: I am in complete accord. The beacons of personal freedom aren’t found often enough in the USA lately. That’s why Phil always pulls out his “Eternal Vigilance” graphic.

  65. J

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/declaration_of_independence_a_fisking/

    Ok, so this is tongue in cheek, but some of the criticisms are spot on.

  66. Damon

    I’ve never understood that “eternal vigilance” motivational poster. Could someone explain it to me? What does a snowy fence have to do with freedom? Why is there mention of a squirrel but a dog pictured? I don’t get it.

    Regardless: Happy (belated) Independence Day.

  67. J

    Damon,

    Squirrels must always be on the lookout for dogs.

  68. Saren

    Oh, geez, nothing brings out the America bashers like a patriotic holiday, eh?

    Sorry, EU-based commenters. We’ll work double-plus verygood to try and achieve your levels of perfection where every child is wrestling with superstring theory by age 6 and wine flows from all the taps.

    @dave from manchester

    So glad you took the time from drunkenly rioting over the latest Manchester United game to post your amazing discovery about the DOI. Wow. No one has EVER noticed that the founding fathers owned slaves before! Good on you!

    Many historians consider the fact that the slave owning founding fathers could still draft the document they did an amazing thing. Pretty much *none* of them will say it invalidates the words of the document. There’s a lot of complexity and nuance in the tension between the document and its composers, but you’d have to rise up out of the filth and reach a non-zero level of intellect first. If you manage to do that, came back and we’ll talk.

    Maybe start small. Research British Navy press gangs. Or, if you are really concerned about the evil of slavery, give money to a group that is fighting human slavery *right* *now* in Northern Africa.

    Here’s one: http://www.bridgetofreedomfoundation.org/

    So, you can sit their on your lazy bum and bad mouth a whole country, or you can do something about a real problem. Your choice, Dave.

  69. Saren

    It’s annoying that so many Americans seem to be oblivious to this, and still appear to think that the US is the sole oasis of peace and freedom in the world that it once was.

    [citation needed]

    It’s one of the reasons Americans are often perceived as ignorant and arrogant elsewhere in the world,

    Or maybe the world is full of just as many bigots and hate-filled jerks as the US. If anyone thinks their excrement doesn’t smell it’s every EU commentator on every message board I can find. The EU is the world’s leading exporter in holier than thou arrogance for ten centuries running.

  70. PorkBellyFutures

    I’m not an American so I don’t have a strong opinion on this, but I saw a thing posted on Twitter by someone I consider very intelligent:
    “Most people in the US today disagree with the founding fathers about government & would have opposed the revolution.”

    I don’t know if that’s really true or not, but it at least sounds plausible, and is an interesting thing to ponder. Even without being America-centric, it is easy to argue that the American Revolution was one of the most remarkable events in human history. Can you think of a single other time when a nation violently overthrew a governing power and then successfully formed a new government without any subsequent violence?

  71. Luke

    I’m not understanding the negative attitude of some of the comments here in reaction to Phil’s “I know not all of my readers are Americans…” paragraph. Maybe you’re simply used to smug blowhard pundits on American TV saying this in a condescending manner or something, but I completely didn’t read that paragraph that way. It seemed more like a genuine, “Hey, I completely understand you don’t have the same feelings towards the U.S. as I do, but check out the DoI if you haven’t, it’s got some good stuff!” sort of sentiment. If the people here had any suggestions about reading their country’s foundational documents, I’d be genuinely interested in checking them out.

    Ah well, I do agree that the whole “America #1! Everyone else sucks!” type attitude is obnoxious, I just don’t think Phil is anywhere near that with this post.

  72. Americas greatest Achievement

    BTW. In my earlier coment (# 65) I meant *all* the Apollo missions not just Apollo 17 were the greatest accomplishment – in my opinion – of all many wonderful things the USA has done.

  73. Americas greatest Achievement

    Although Apollo 17 was special as the first time a scientist landed on the Moon as well as being the last human lunar mission.

    The United States of America is a remarkable nation full of remarkable people that have given the rest of the world some amazing life-changing, life improving things – from Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin through to Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan’s works.

    The “Best Country on Earth” is, of course, a subjective & personal judgement but few people would argue that the USA is the leader of the free Western world, a superpower that has the most powerful cultural and military forces and that heavily influences the globe. It is an example and a much sought after destination for travellers and would-be immigrants alike.

    That makes the United States of America a big and easy target for criticism and its faults and warts are visible to all – and many envious and small minds living in lands that themselves have equal or more often far greater flaws often seek to point these out and cut down the “tall poppy” of America. But even they would surely have to concede a world without the USA would be a lot worse off and that the USA has benefitted people elsewhere much more than its ever harmed them. The USA isn’t perfect but it sure beats the alternatives. Mostly by a very long way.

    America is a wonderful place full of wonderful people. America’s independence; it’s founding justly deserves to be celebrated and applauded. Period. :-)

    @ 74. Luke :

    Ah well, I do agree that the whole “America #1! Everyone else sucks!” type attitude is obnoxious, I just don’t think Phil is anywhere near that with this post.

    I agree there. :-)

  74. Americas greatest Achievement

    @ 66. Pepijn Schmitz :

    These days it’s one of many great free and democratic countries, none of which is superior in all, or even many, respects to any of the others. If you want evidence of this, just take a look at [wikipedia List of indices of freedom link.]

    Thanks for that list – interesting to see there that the USA and Australia (my homeland) are both rated exactly the same & odd to think they’ve only given the both of us a “satisfactory situation” rather than a “good situation” in the Press Freedom column. I disagree there & I think the compilers of that table would find that ranking very hard to justify in both cases. It does seem somewhat subjective – there’s a few other things & rankings there that look a bit “off” to me.

    I’ll also note that “full democracy” is a misnomer as most if not all these nations are in fact “representative democracies” – ancient Athens being the one & *only* example I can think of a “Full democracy” where all decisions were made by popular vote of citizens. (Even that is problematic given the ancient Athenian’s situation wrt. slaves and women being barred from voting and very “unfree”.)

    I’d have both our nations in the “all blue list” & change a few other rankings there too in my view.

    Finally saying : “These days [the USA is] one of many great free and democratic countries,” is misleading and bit unfair. The USA is the *leading* free & democratic country and is also the role model – and the main protector – for a hell of a lot of the others.

    Without the USA many of the nations here simply wouldn’t exist either at all (eg. former Soviet states, Bosnia and Herzegovina) or would be in very different and less happy circumstances – incl. my own. Think World War II without the US role. Without them, it is arguably the case that Australians would be speaking Japanese and certain that much of Europe would be part of a Nazi empire. Let’s not overlook or underestimate that reality. A little more gratitude and keeping this in mind from many of the European nations that like to indulge themsleves in US-bashing (eg. the “cheese eating surrender monkeys” in France! :-P ) would be good.

  75. Adrian Lopez

    @Saren, @Americas greatest Achievement,

    A country so smug about its own superiority is bound to become a target of criticism when it fails to live by the ideals it so arrogantly claims to represent. That’s America.

  76. @ 73 wrote:

    Can you think of a single other time when a nation violently overthrew a governing power and then successfully formed a new government without any subsequent violence?

    Ahem… there was that little thing about Washington marching in western Pennsylvania, and Kentucky’s flirtation with Spain.

  77. Sean H

    @58: The main cause of the war of 1812 was Naval impressment. It pretty much stopped after we proved that 1776 wasn’t a one-off event.

    @Philip: 300 million people bordered by two sovereign countries(one of which is being torn apart by an unnecessary drug war based on the retro-notion of prohibition) and two large oceans makes gun trafficking a lot harder to curtail than it is in countries with 30 million.

    As for freedom of speech… Australia doesn’t let you buy the comic “From Hell”. They’ve decided that grown men and women can’t read a piece of fiction. They also edit People, Cosmo, etc. for “content” that’s acceptable in the United States(which I assume you feel is a puritanical right-wing country from some of your tone). Seperation of Church and State? England has a state church to this day and Germany, despite their history, makes you state your religion.

    Now the crux of your statement regarded gay rights, yes? It’s a long road and it sucks but that’s what it is. It’s MUCH harder to pass comprehensive laws/social change in a country so large than it is in an individual state.

    If you’re looking for prior precedence then The Civil Rights act of 1964 didn’t come through fully formed like Athena, there was an 1864,1957, etc. civil rights act(I believe that’s the correct year) too. Change is transitive usually so it’s not going to happen right away. DADT is the biggest obstacle to the one remaining issue regarding gay rights which is that of marriage. Once gays openly serve in the military then they’ve got the rest in the bag. It happened with every other disliked class of citizen and it’ll happen with them too. Luckily for the gays they only have the two issues before them. They’re able to vote, hold a job, etc. in ways that earlier freed slaves, Irish, and Italian immigrants at the turn of the century couldn’t.

    Comparing countries then… Germany is much less atheist friendly than the United States based on tithe law. Australia is much less free-speech friendly due to their censorship of foreign publications. England has a viable neo-nazi party called the BNP which has seats in the EU Parliament(No doubt we have organized parties of crazies too but they don’t hold office usually). Ireland has anti-blasphemy laws on book and is out of step with most European(and America) countries due to their papist loving past. Italy has a similar theme. All of these countries have or are going to have problems with their people in the next 20-30 years with the growing Muslim population(I didn’t really believe that until I read about the shanties in Paris that the cops don’t even go into) which are going to make their gun/crime stance seem silly in hindsight. But if you want to see your country turn into a theocracy under your nose then by all means criticize America’s attitude(which you did because an American blogger was BOLD enough to celebrate his country’s founding document on the fourth of july) towards gays as you prosecute MP’s for thought crimes while you lay the groundwork for Sharia. It’ll be nice to be the leftist country in the western world again.

  78. Oh #71, Saren you have used just about every illegitimate debating technique known to bigot kind to attack me.

    1. Where did I claim that ” every child is wrestling with superstring theory by age 6 and wine flows from all the taps”

    2. You have no more reason to assume that every resident of Manchester is a rioting drunkard than I have to believe that every resident of Chicago is a machine gun toting gangster.

    3. I don’t imagine I am the first to notice that the founding fathers were slave owners but my point was that Phil seems willing to overlook the fact in his peon of praise for the DOI.

    4. If this example of ad hominen attack is typical of you i think you are the one covered in slime.

    5. I don’t need to research British Navy press gangs. They were a deplorable practice but pressed men were not lifetime slaves. Anyway that doesn’t detract from the perceived hypocrisy of the DOI.

    6. Have you been hacking my bank accounts to investigate my charitable giving. If so you are as bad at that as at rational argument because you seem to have missed the donations I make to several human rights organisations though not the one you mention.

    So when you have grown up enough to argue rationally do come back to me.

  79. #72 Saren said
    ” The EU is the world’s leading exporter in holier than thou arrogance for ten centuries running.”

    Which is pretty good going for an organisation which was founded 17 years ago. Are you really that ignorant about non USA history.

    #73 Pork Bell Futures said
    “Can you think of a single other time when a nation violently overthrew a governing power and then successfully formed a new government without any subsequent violence?”

    Have you forgotten about the subsequent war between the States

    #76 said
    “few people would argue that the USA is the leader of the free Western world”

    Indeed not. But most people prefer to elect a leader than have one thrust upon them by power of great military might. The European Union, which Saren so despises, was formed partly as an attempt to counterweight the perceived over-weening power of the USA.

    #80 Sean H said
    “England has a viable neo-nazi party called the BNP which has seats in the EU Parliament”

    It is British not English, actually and it is in terminal decline – nowhere does it exercise any power. Unlike some of the crazies your side of the pond :-)

  80. @Philip: 300 million people bordered by two sovereign countries(one of which is being torn apart by an unnecessary drug war based on the retro-notion of prohibition) and two large oceans makes gun trafficking a lot harder to curtail than it is in countries with 30 million.

    It’s not just trafficking which is the problem, it is the fact that guns and ammunition can be bought legally all over the country. I’m sure Canada is a huge source of illegal firearms entering the US. :-) As for those from Mexico, most of them stem originally from the US.

    As for freedom of speech… Australia doesn’t let you buy the comic “From Hell”. They’ve decided that grown men and women can’t read a piece of fiction. They also edit People, Cosmo, etc. for “content” that’s acceptable in the United States(which I assume you feel is a puritanical right-wing country from some of your tone).

    Australia might be worse than the States in this respect, but the US is certainly terrified of content which in many countries is deemed completely harmless. Need I say “nipplegate”?

    Seperation of Church and State? England has a state church to this day and Germany, despite their history, makes you state your religion.

    It depends on what you mean by “state church”. In England, the monarch is the head of the church, but it’s not a state church in the sense that all citizens must belong to it, or that one has disadvantages if one does not. I’m not sure what “despite their history” means in this context. As for “making you state your religion”, this is true only in the context of those churches which have an agreement with the state to collect taxes. (Personally, I think this isn’t a good idea, but it doesn’t disadvantage me personally in any way.) No church is forced into this agreement, and one doesn’t have any disadvantages if one doesn’t belong to such a church, or to none at all. In the US, can you imagine a presidential campaign where the candidates are not “forced to state their religion”?

    Now the crux of your statement regarded gay rights, yes? It’s a long road and it sucks but that’s what it is. It’s MUCH harder to pass comprehensive laws/social change in a country so large than it is in an individual state.

    Actually, I didn’t mention gay rights at all, although in practice many of the restrictions were targeted at homosexuals. OK, maybe these laws are not valid anymore (having been struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003 (only 7 years ago!!!), but wouldn’t it be a good signal to get rid of them? (According to Wikipedia, “Oral sex has long had a special criminal status in Georgia law; until 1998, oral sex even between husband and wife was punishable with up to 20 years in prison.”) I don’t see why passing laws ensuring sexual freedom between consenting adults should be harder to pass than, say, the Patriot Act.

    Comparing countries then… Germany is much less atheist friendly than the United States based on tithe law.

    This is simply wrong. If you don’t belong to a church, you don’t pay any church tax. Note that in Germany there are politicians who are openly atheist. Are there any in the US?

  81. bob

    So you’re brought up in a particular manner with a particular document at the core of that upbringing and you think you can promote it in an unbiased manner? I think you might want to apply a little of your normal cynicism to this post.

    Comments on above posts:

    Comparing censorship in western countries is pointless, they all do ridiculous things on a regular basis that are either ignored for practical purposes or annulled fairly rapidly.

    The Church of England is not Britain’s state religion. The state is a self contained entity wrapped in some traditions that involve the monarchy and / or church. Neither have any real power.

    The Declaration of Independence has little to do with human rights or freedom. When Thomas Jefferson et al wrote it 200 odd years ago, their definition of “man” and of “freedom” was not the same as ours today. Most obvious example is, of course, slavery.

  82. Saren

    @dave

    I was just turning around the stuff that always gets dumped on us. Stinks, doesn’t it?

  83. QuietDesperation

    I don’t imagine I am the first to notice that the founding fathers were slave owners but my point was that Phil seems willing to overlook the fact in his peon of praise for the DOI.

    Most intelligent and mature people are able to judge the document on its own merits. If we were to judge all documents by the failings of their writers there wouldn’t be a valid treaty, contract or other legal document in existence.

    Phil was just celebrating the power of the Declaration, and you came in with your petty little squabbling. And, no, you didn’t merely make the point above. You called it “typical piece of American hypocrisy – the father of modern American hypocrisy.” thus attacking everything.

    So should we start listing the crimes of the British Empire over the centuries? Is there a *real* point to your coming here other than taking a dump on our holiday? You barged in and acted like a prat. If you don’t like the response that generated then sod off.

  84. I don’t mind the response at all – I find it highly amusing and revealing that the main weapon you use in defending criticism of your founding fathers is an ad hominen attack.

    And if you want to list the crimes of the British Empire be my guest. I will defend some of them and deplore others. All without attacking you personally.

    And, of course, my real point in coming here is to read about Astronomy – something that is singularly lacking in this thread :-)

  85. RL

    @ 84, QuietDesperation,

    Very well said! Thank you.

  86. QuietDesperation

    — you use in defending criticism of your founding fathers is an ad hominen attack.

    Huh? I wasn’t defending the founding fathers at all. In fact, I implied agreement about their failings. I’m not even very patriotic anymore, and I find much of July 4th quite maudlin.

    What I was doing was deservedly calling a prat a prat. That’s called “gratuitous abuse.” :-) Ya savvy?

    Besides, the argumentum ad hominem is not always, by definition, fallacious. Motives, conduct and character are quite often relevant to whatever issue is at hand.

    — And, of course, my real point in coming here is to read about Astronomy – something that is singularly lacking in this thread

    Well, as Phil says, don’t read the political threads if you don’t like them, or they alarm you unduly.

  87. I would greatly appreciate if people would stop violating my one rule: don’t be a jerk.

    As for you, Dave from Manchester, you’re reading a whole lot into my post than I wrote into it. The point was about what freedoms people have and which ones government don’t, just like I wrote. You are free to extrapolate wildly from that, of course, but don’t start violating my rule just because people call you on your ignorance of the actual history of the document.

  88. QuietDesperation

    I would greatly appreciate if people would stop violating my one rule: don’t be a jerk.

    Whether you meant me or not, I apologize, Phil. My gears just got ground for a moment there. :-)

    The point was about what freedoms people have and which ones government don’t, just like I wrote.

    That’s actually *the* point with our Constitution. It is nearly unique in that it proscribes limits to government. Contrast this with the European Union’s sister document which pretty much ignores any delineation of government powers. The seem to have deliberately left the scope of government undefined. Make of that what you will vis-à-vis the real agenda in Brussels.

    Kudos to the UK for standing up to many of the provisions, or at least they did. I have not been following Cameron’s POV.

  89. Phil.

    Sorry for being a jerk. Being accused of [I] drunkenly rioting over the latest Manchester United game[/I] by Saren rather enraged me. Suggesting that a supporter of Manchester’s other Premier League football team (City) was at a United match is like a red rag to a bull :-)

    Quite D

    Your point about the EU constitution is well taken and causes great concern in the UK – one of the reasons that it has never been ratified. But the UK constitution proscribes similar limits to the power of government as does your US constitution. Possibly greater as, for example, it doesn’t permit extra-territorial suspension of habeas corpus.

  90. mike burkhart

    I think the best way to appreceate the Dcelartion of Independce and the Bill of rights is to read or watch scifi about futures in witch these freedoms were taken away , the best (or worse) is 1984 , every one is under suvalnce,the goverment in the “ministre of truth” changes media to whatever the party wants it to say, wipes out the memory of disents who have been killed by declaring them “non-persons” and all mention of them is destroyed ( this is just a few human rights abuses in 1984 if I mention them all I could Fill this blog) Logans Run at frist seems like an ideal place : no one has to work ,every one pursures pleasure , but to controll the population every one must die at 30 (in the book its 20) if you do it leagly you are told you are renewing but if you run you are killed by the police . (Phil one shocking thing , it seems all astronomical knowlege has been lost in the time of logans run , its deplorable)I think we can hope that our nation never looses these rights .

  91. QuietDesperation

    I think the best way to appreceate the Dcelartion of Independce and the Bill of rights is to read or watch scifi about futures in witch these freedoms were taken away

    Seems like all of them these days. Has there been a positive portrayal of the near future in recent years? And by near future I mean out to, oh, 2040 or 2050.

    Minority Report is all I can think of. The subject of the story was dark, but the background world looked clean and shiny. Nice cars. :)

    Your point about the EU constitution is well taken and causes great concern in the UK

    I would hope so. I’m actually a big fan of you guys (half of what I watch is on BBC America these days) and would hate to see you fall to the Dark Tyranny of Brussels. ;-)

  92. dave from manchester england

    #95 Quite D said

    “‘Your point about the EU constitution is well taken and causes great concern in the UK’

    I would hope so. I’m actually a big fan of you guys (half of what I watch is on BBC America these days) and would hate to see you fall to the Dark Tyranny of Brussels. ;-)

    On the other hand. The European Court of Human Rights (who police what is, in effect, the European equivalent of your Bill of Rights) has this week refused to allow a terrorist suspect to be extradited to the USA on the grounds that his human rights would be violated in the USA. Which has caused great annoyance to right wing politicians in the UK.

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