As the 50th anniversary of America’s revolution against colonialism and the divine right of kings approached, the author of the rebellion’s founding document — still alive at age 83 –was asked to attend a July 4, 1826, celebration in Washington.
Alas, Thomas Jefferson could not make the journey from his beloved Monticello. The infirmity that had narrowed the great traveler’s range would claim him (and his old rival John Adams), with an irony the the essential founder would have appreciated, on the anniversary itself.
But the invitation from Washington gave Jefferson an opportunity to speak one last time to the nation he and his contemporaries had forged into being.
And his counsel, as always, was not just to maintain the spirit of the ’76 but to raise the banner of liberty higher so that all the world could rally to its promise.
May (July 4) be to the world, what I believe it will be, to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all: the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self government.
That form (of government) which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion.
All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.
The general spread of the light of science has already laid open, to every view, the palpable truth (that) the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the Grace of God.
These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
Remarkably, George Bush will visit Monticello on this, the 232nd celebration of the nation’s revolt against a king named George.
Were Jefferson around, he would not be greeting Bush. The man who counseled that Americans would have to be ever on their guard against those who might turn the presidency into the tool of their “elected despotism” would surely be protesting not just the visit but the very notion of Bush’s crudely constructed and violently executed presidency.
But, true to his nature, Jefferson would see those “grounds for hope” that he referred to in his last message.
Surely, he would have delighted in the advertisement in Thursday’s New York Times that announced “A Declaration for Our Times” — a variation on the Declaration of Independence that, in the spirit of the original document, rejects sacrifices of basic liberties in the name of security.