The Forgotten Meaning of Independence Day

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July 9, 2008

A recent poll on this site asked if respondents planned to observe ( U.S. ) Independence Day this year. My belated response is a "yes", I did observe Independence Day as I always do -- and not just because I like having a day off from work. I did so because I know what the holiday really means.

Yes, Jefferson was a slaveholder, Adams and Hamilton were mercantilists who would make the G8 and the IMF proud, and the newly established Congress was more concerned about protecting the interests of the new American privileged classes vis a vis the old Tories loyal to the British Crown. Yes, Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion with the same gusto he used in his own rebellion against the redcoats, oblivious to the irony. Yes, women and Blacks and Native Americans and the masses who did not own landed property were hardly represented in this new "government of the people" no matter how much the "Founding Fathers" talked about liberty. But I still observe Independence Day because I know what it really means.

However imperfect and hypocritical their new Republic ended up, the "Founding Fathers" were on the right track eleven score and twelve years ago when they declared [emphasis mine]:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Notwithstanding that the document specifically mentions replacing a despotic government with another, presumably less despotic one, as opposed to refuting the notion of centralized Government altogether, the critical concept (and impending act) they were trying to justify here was secession.

Yes, secession. Separation from an abusive master. An assertion of one's unalienable rights. A visceral declaration of ownership over one's own life. A rebuke to governments that act with impunity. An assertion of one's right to divorce themselves with any government, agency, or person that actively works against their best interest, or by extension, any system that perpetuates injustice against them. That is what the Fourth of July is about, if it ever meant anything to begin with. Why, this particular country would not exist if not for secession.

Nowadays secession is a dirty word associated with the Confederate States of America and their rebellion, presumably for its people's "freedom to own slaves" (even though the Union government had several slave states and put in place a military draft during the Civil War). Hell, nowadays we take for granted that the Feds can search your home, detain you without trial, read your emails, tap your phones, take money from your paycheck before you even see it, carpet bomb poor people in the Middle East for imagined crimes, force you to pay for other people's healthcare even if you can barely afford your own, take your home and property away and give it to some politically connected developer under the guise of eminent domain -- the list goes on. And the American people carry on blithely as if the Feds had any natural right to do these things, as if We the People had no natural rights, as if our lot in life was to endure abuses and hubris, as if there was no better alternative.

It's infuriating, considering that the abuses of the usurper George Bush are far more egregious than those perpetrated by King George III, and would demand a proportionate response on our part. This country would not exist if not for secession, but suggest the notion in any really serious discourse and you'll be branded a fool, traitor, and be laughed out of the room. Worse yet, your friends and family will protest that you're being "unrealistic" (ah, the coward's favorite word).

Every Fourth of July, as we the people fly our flags made in Chinese sweatshops, sing patriotic songs adapted from British pub shanties, and blather about Great Men in American History about whom we know nothing save their names, we fail to recognize the visceral historical and political truth behind the hallowed occasion. No, we're far too busy equating America with the soulless, amoral agency called the Federal Government, beating our chests about freedom when we are clearly not free, expressing pride in an identity and political ethic of liberty that we no longer hold claim to. One wonders if we ever will.

At the very least, you can secede psychologically from the viral Leviathan statism that has overwhelmed America and the world. You can dismiss sentimental loyalty to any particular government (or nation or even political ideology) over another as just another rat race of the psyche. You can refuse to believe in this system based on exploitation and destruction and control, the same way you scrap a religion when you find that it no longer fits the facts of reality -- as did George Bernard Shaw's beloved professor of Greek, Adolphus Cusins. You can secede from all that, assert your natural independence -- preferably with some dangerous fireworks in order to hold your own unauthorized, non-corporate-sponsored exhibition next Fourth of July, as we traditionally do here in Brooklyn.

Acts of secession, personal and political alike, show the real spirit of the season -- one that would surely turn the celebrities at the annual Macy's exhibitions into sputtering facsimiles of Bill O'Reilly; shut up, shut up, shut up!'

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Marcel Votlucka's picture
Columns on STR: 29

 Marcel Votlucka writes from Brooklyn NY.  His work focuses on the connections between psychology, culture, and anti-politics.  Visit his new website at