I am not sure when this happened to me, but sometime during my teenage years I began to value the day after Independence Day more than the 4th itself.
For me, I have always imagined the 4th of July as the day that a bunch of young idealists finally convinced older men of influence, as well as commoners, to buy into their dream for a future. On the 4th I envision these young men, many of them in their teens, in a state of euphoria over what they accomplished, sitting down at a pub, or in someones home, animatedly speaking, drinking and celebrating.
For me, the real day of celebration is the 5th because, on this day, they decided to follow through.
Can you imagine being these men? Can you imagine signing your names on a paper, declaring treason against your country due to a collective philosophy and dream for a better life. It must have felt wonderful on the 4th, but what about on the fifth? What must it have felt like to wake up in the morning and now know that following through with everything you declared the day before has sentenced you to death if you do not win? Can you imagine the gravity of that situation.
Many times in my life, and I am sure you have experienced this as well, I have been part of small and large group movements. We had a vision, ideas were created to improve things at a place of work, in a neighborhood, in a city. People were initially very invested in this idea. It was new, it was exciting. The dream was something no one could resist wanting. Eventually the reality of the hard work needed to accomplish that goal set in and many of the people recused themselves or just stopped showing up. The work was too hard, it was too time consuming, it was uncomfortable, etc.
When I imagine the 5th of July, I imagine some of our Founding Fathers waking up with hangovers and wondering if they could take it back. Maybe they could stop the letter before it was placed on the ship and sent off to King George. Maybe they could send word to the king that they didn’t mean it. They would promise to do anything to stay loyal.
It’s not hard to imagine that this went through many of their minds. Benedict Arnold did eventually betray America and go back to the British side. Honestly, how many of you, when thinking on it, admit that you would never have taken that type of risk in the first place?
This year, as the fourth approached, I found myself focusing less on what the Founding Fathers dream was and more on how it translates into today.
Unless you live under a rock, you are well aware of the large societal split that exists in our country over the Covid-19 Pandemic, mask wearing and shutdowns. For months I have watched wars, built on words, pop up in my news feed on social media and in national news outlets. When boiling these wars down to their core two basic arguments emerge.
Argument 1: We are American, we are Free. No one can make me wear a mask, tell me what to do, or shut down my business.
Argument 2: We are American. We are Free from religion, free from oppression, free to make our decisions BUT we owe it to our community, our Nation and each other to work and move as one to protect one another.
These last few months have been hard for me. Often times I find friends expecting me to agree with them or take a side within these arguments. I have found myself unable to, fully pick one side because I find both arguments to be valid. The dividing factor between these groups seems to be a difference in values and interpretation of American Freedom. How can an interpretation based on a differing value be wrong?
One of the most used phrased I hear lately is “With freedom comes great responsibility”. I have seen both sides use this argument to validate their belief. People in the Anti Mask / open everything up team use this stating that freedom comes at a cost. To be free you can not allow a government to rule you. You must make the decisions on how to live your life. You are responsible for your safety. People in the pro-mask / close it down group use this phrase to state that as a free people we have a responsibility to protect everyone else in our community. We must close down and wear masks to protect others.
Today, while ruminating over these arguments, I think I have finally been able to piece together what the main value difference / way of interpreting freedom is.
People are not truly arguing about masks, businesses and the rights to “Freedom”. What people are actually debating is What Freedom Is. We are literally in a comparison argument of Apples to Oranges. No one will win this until a majority finally comes to an agreement on what Freedom is. Until then, this will go on for a while.
So, I asked myself, what is the freedom our Founding Fathers envisioned for us. Life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and a Government by the people, for the people, etc, sounds great on paper. The question is, what was freedom for them?
Our Founding Fathers were definitely of the mindset that the American People were fighting for their Freedom From Others. They wanted to break the shackles placed upon the people of this land by an authoritarian. They wanted us to be free to write our own laws, establish our own trades, practice our own religions.
The question we seem to be debating today is did our Founding Fathers intend for us to have Freedom of others. To be free From Others is for us too not have a government telling us what to do, where to go, how to do our business, etc. Freedom of others means that none of us are beholden to anyone else. If I am free of others I do not have any responsibility to help feed the poor, fund public schools, keep my dog from pooping on my neighbors lawn, nor do I have to cover my face to protect others from me. To be free from others is to be 100% free from responsibility to other people, except by whatever laws govern the land.
When looking at this I find that the Anti-Mask / Open up now camp very much believes that our Founding Fathers wanted us to have both Freedom From Others and Freedom Of Others. Their choices are theirs. They are free. If you don’t like it, oh well. That’s Freedom Baby…
Our pro mask / close everything down side seems to believe our Founding Fathers wanted us to have Freedom From Others, but not Freedom Of Others. To these individuals Freedom gives us the responsibility of caring for our elderly, our sick, our poor, etc. When we are not free of others we have a responsibility to protect the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of everyone. Wearing a mask is to protect others.
The question I have been asking myself today is, What did our Founding Fathers believe? If they were here today, what would they say? Where would they stand on this argument?
On one side I can see Thomas Jefferson wanting us to be free from others, but not free of others. He penned the Deceleration of Independence declaring that All Men were created equal, that we all had those rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He rewrote the New Testament into one in which Jesus was a man of Morals, “Jefferson’s Bible focused on Jesus as a man of morals, a teacher whose truths were expressed without the help of miracles or the supernatural powers of God.” Jefferson seems like the type of man who would believe we were all indebted to one another. He seems like a pro-mask kinda guy… until you look into what he did with his life, not just what he said.
The simplest way to judge what Jefferson would actually think is to look at what he said in the Declaration of Independence, about Slavery, and what he actually did. It is believed, by many, that Jefferson’s initial “anti-slavery” words were one of the first political stunts in our nation. He said what he needed to say to get abolitionists and other people invested in the movement. He said what he did to gain support with no intention of ever pursuing freedom for everyone.
Turning away from Jefferson I find that the majority of our founding fathers believed that only land owning men (rich and educated men) were smart enough to vote and make decisions. All women, and any man of color, were believed to be naturally unintelligent. These people needed to be ruled over. Knowing this I can see where believing our Founding Fathers would have been Pro-Mask and Pro Shut Down. They would not have felt the common people were smart enough to make these decisions on their own. They needed wealthy and educated men to tell them what to do.
At the same time, The Founding Fathers position on masks and shutdown can not be fully seen by looking at how they believed that the common man, and all women, needed to be ruled over by wealthy and intelligent men. While our Founding Fathers would not have seen the common people as having earned Freedom From Others, what about Freedom of Others. Would our founding fathers have believed that we, as a people, owe it to our sick, frail and elderly. Would they believe we should care for one another, or would they say we are free of others and bear no responsibility to them?
And this is where I get stuck. I just don’t know. Or maybe I don’t want to admit what I do know. Did our founding fathers actually give a darn about you or I? Did they care about the people, or did they care about their own self interests alone.
If our founding fathers did believe that the people were no free from others rule, but they were free of responsibility to others, then I think they would be fine with the way things are in Wisconsin right now. People can go out and party if they want to, they can wear a mask if they want to. It doesn’t matter to them, as long as the rich white men are safe in their bunkers.
If our founding fathers did believe that people were not free from others, and were not free of others, than they would have been in support of the lock downs, forced business closures, business bail outs, stimulus payouts, etc.
This my friends, this is the debate.
So my question to you is this. Do we, as a nation, continue pointing to our founding fathers, twisting their words and ideals in a way to make our beliefs about freedom right? We can do that or we, as a nation, can decide what we, the people of 2020 believe. What is our value system? Do we believe that we as a nation are Free From Other and Free of Others? Do we believe we are Free from Others but not free of others? When we figure this out, when we come to an agreed upon value system, these petty battles between us should end.