“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” — Denis Diderot
There are many milestones and historical markers along the path from being the subjects of kings and clergy to the blessings of being a free people. Do not feel bad if you do not know that path well—often the path is only visible after it has been traveled by thousands. The signing of the magna carta is often touted as one of the first steps on this journey—this document was once called “the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” (Lord Denning, 1899-1999). Although it was not really effective—neither the king nor the barons paid it much heed—it does serve as a popularized rallying point for those who would recognize the rights of individuals to a level of self-rule seldom found under tyrants, whether secular or otherwise. Popularly, it is usually remembered for removing the imprimatur of divine right from those who would cast us as serfs and servants.
June is the start of our summer season, but it is also marked by many of those important historical markers. We can start with Memorial Day—the last Monday in May, this gateway to summer reminds us to honor and mourn the U.S. military personnel who have died in obtaining and defending our freedom. First observed after the Civil War (1868 being the first observation) it has grown as we have continued our fight for freedom. June continues to guide our journey by offering us a well-remembered set of markers. Most of us have no trouble remembering the sixth of June as the day we re-entered Western Europe with the Normandy Invasion, also remembered as D-Day. Perhaps less well remembered is “Flag Day,” celebrated mostly in schools and at the local level—it commemorates the 1777 resolution adopting the first national flag, the familiar thirteen stripes with a field of stars on blue. As new states have entered the Union we have added new stars to that field.
The next opportunity to celebrate freedom comes on the 19th of June. Known by a variety of monikers, the Juneteenth celebration marks the anniversary of the announcement of General Order No. 3 by the Union Army General Granger—proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas. In theory, this ended the institution of chattel slavery in the United States. We had fought a long and bloody civil war to get to that point, far bloodier than the simple War for Independence. Although we can use Juneteenth to remind us of that watershed, we must recognize that many of us are still all too often held in debt-bondage, and our struggle for freedom continues.
Our capstone holiday is the Fourth of July. Just beyond the calendar reach of the month of June, on the Fourth we celebrate the start of our unique path from serving royalty to being a free people. Remembering and celebrating Memorial Day, D-Day, Flag Day and Juneteenth can help us remember that the Fourth of July only marked the start of our country’s journey on the path to freedom, continuing the journey first started some five hundred years before the colonists took their big step.
Now, as we struggle to build our identity as a nation, we are confronted with the need to expand our vision to recognize that the struggle for freedom against tyranny is not limited to the struggles against kings and clergy. It is not sufficient to celebrate on that one day in July—as nice as that is. As we watch the world turning away from individual rights and freedoms to embrace authoritarian models, it may be useful to celebrate freedom frequently lest we find ourselves living the warning of Thomas Jefferson, who famously noted that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Perhaps, if we really work at remembering freedom and its price, we can realize one dream of our Constitutional Republic—which is that the ballot box can be where our revolutions are fought, and we can forgo the bloodshed. But for that to occur, we must be engaged with each other all across the political spectrum. Isolating ourselves in our respective parties’ echo chambers is the surest way to crush all truly useful dialogue.
Bruce enjoys the give-and-take of political discourse thanks to the better angels of his friends.