Independence Day – July 4th – The Special Meaning of This Day

by Hank Boerner

Happy Birthday, USA Independence!

Every year by order of the U.S. Congress we set aside this day to celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 by the courageous leaders of the 13 original states along the Eastern seaboard of this continent.

This was an action taken by the Second Continental Congress of the 13 “United States of America” gathered in Philadelphia — [a]n unanimous decision by “the Founding Fathers.”

The First Continental Congress had met in Philadelphia in September and October 1774 to arrange for a mutual resistance to British rule.

The first skirmish would be in April 1776 at Lexington and Concord and the War of American Independence was on.

In May 1776 the Second [meeting of the] Congress would instruct the individual states to start putting new constitutions together for self-rule.

Meeting in Philadelphia in July (2nd to 4th), the Congress would declare American Independence and adopt the Declaration.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration’s text boldly states,”that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain un-alienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The text noted that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their Just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…56 representatives from the various states would sign their names.

Some of course familiar: John Hancock. Thomas Jefferson. Robert Morris. Benjamin Franklin. William Floyd. Richard Stockton. Samuel Adams. John Adams. Roger Sherman…and many more.

The first major battle of the war would be in what is now Brooklyn, Long Island, New York (Kings County), the Battle of Long Island — with masses of British army and naval forces coming close to defeating the small Revolutionary American Army, and the long and brutal War of Independence (from the rule of England) would ensue, continuing until 1781.

Early in the war, the Delegates of the States assembled (November 15, 1777) to agree to a “confederation” of the 13 states and to a “Perpetual Union” between the states.

The War of the Independence of America would end at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. The Treaty of Paris would finally end the war in September 1783.

On March 1, 1781, the members of the American Congress would agree to “ratify” The [1777 drafted] Articles of Confederation (13 in all), to officially create these “United States of America.” The powers of the Congress are spelled out in these pages.

And then came one of the most momentous of documents of humankind: The adoption of the Constitution of the United States of America, with Articles hammered out and set before the assembled Congress on September 17, 1787 and on March 4, 1789 the Constitution was formally adopted in the new nation’s capital, New York City.

Along with certain Amendments (which we know as the Declaration of Independence) — Amendment #1 being that Congress will make no law regarding [establishment of] religion; nor prohibit free exercise of religion; or abridge freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble; or to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.

These are echoes of the 1776 grievances embodied in the Declaration of Independence firmly “amended” to the Constitution. Over the years the first 10 have been expanded to 27, the last adopted May 7, 1992 (dealing with Congress establishing compensation for the members).

How bold/courageous/inspiring:  “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union…”

When I was in grade school, after World War Two ended and the peacetime returned to the United States, the State of New York assembled many of the important documents that explained the long, arduous steps to American (and state) freedom, and took these around the Empire State by train.

The railroad cars that I visited in my hometown station had facsimiles of state charters, minutes of the legislature over the years, letters of leaders (like Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman), and the New York State ratification of the Constitution of the United States on July 26, 1788 — with the first 10 amendments which were suggested by the state (not included in the Constitution but also as the first of the amendments).

We youngsters were shown the Federalist Papers; the original draft of the Pledge of Allegiance (1892); documents relating to the Freedom of Religion (the Flushing Remonstrance); the transcript of the Trial of printer John Peter Zenger (1734 – helping to establish the principle of Freedom of the Press in New York City); the newspaper published in 1849 in Seneca Falls, NY by Amelia BloomerThe Lily — the first to be owned, edited and published by a woman…lending support to the fight for equality in voting by women); the document from the legislature in March 1799 — AN ACT FOR THE GRADUAL ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, taking effect the following July 4th, 1800!

And more: the documents establishing Freedom of Education (in New York State); others advancing Science and Manufacturing (which included establishing Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); Freedom of Labor (establishment of Civil Service Law; 1945 anti-discrimination law signed by Republican Governor Thomas Dewey, who would stand for election as President of the United States two times).

The idea for the New York State Freedom Train began in November 1947, when the National Freedom Train came to Albany, the state capital city. The National Train was on tour with its collection of important documents and in the city for one day only.

The state librarian was so impressed that the office began assembling the collection of Freedom Documents that would be put on a bright blue and gold, 6-car state train and taken all over New York State beginning in January 1949 (three cars were full of the documents). As I said, we school age children were taken for our “official tour,” and reading the many documents was something quite impressive and that I remember to this day.

How many children in America — or adults! — are exposed to these important documents that are related in so many ways to the Declaration of Independence, whose signing we celebrate today with fireworks displays?

How many families would go visit the assemblage of such documents – or on a national of state basis – in these busy times?

Maybe…we need another Freedom Train (where rail lines still exist) to help to tell the story of American Freedom, and the part that each of the original 13 states played in establishing these great United States of America.

Happy Birthday, America!

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Postscript from Hank Boerner – July 6, 2017 – the Washington Post on July 5th:

“Some Trump supporters thought NPR tweeted propaganda. It was the Declaration of Independence.”

The story:  As it its tradition on July 4th, the staff of NPR’s “Morning Edition” program tweeted out the Declaration of Independence, Since 144 character is a challenge, this took 113 consecutive posts for the entire text. Then the blowback began, explains Post writer Amy B. Wang. Quite a few people took issue with the “propaganda,” thinking it was about President Trump.

Hmmmm….very interesting!  The parts that attracted real blowback included…

…He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.”

,,,”A Prince who character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unit to the ruler of a free people.”

Was this about Trump?  NO — King George III of England was the subject of the Founding Fathers’ complaints in the Declaration!  The Post writer points out that the text and purpose of the Declaration would likely be recognizable by those who have applied for U.S. citizenship — since questions about the document are on the naturalization test.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a list of study materials in case you or someone you know might be interested.

But a lot of people seem to be un-familiar with our foundational documents (that’s why I took the documents as the theme of my commentary on America’s Birthday).

The Post had four thousand-;plus of Tweety-bird responses to the story and NPR staff said “the tweets were shared by thousands of people and generated a lively conversation.”

My post above is based on facts — the actual document (our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution with our Bill of Rights — and I guess some might consider this propagandizing.  Guilty as charged.

You can read the Post’s story and some of the responses, and comments on the  the NPR Tweets at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/05/some-trump-supporters-thought-npr-tweeted-propaganda-it-was-the-declaration-of-independence/?utm_term=.14470aa78db8&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

 

 

 

 

“Values” And Political Candidates — How to Evaluate What You See and Hear This Election Season

 

by Hank Boerner

Back in May, as the primary season was in full roar, the two main contenders were steadily emerging in the leader position —  Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Tonight the two square off at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York (about 20 miles east of Manhattan).

Are you tuning in? Estimates are that perhaps 100 million people will be watching on broadcast, cable and social media. We are along, long way from the first televised presidential debate, between Senator John Kennedy and VP Richard Nixon. That was a very polite and real debate, with issues front and center and the two contenders exchanging compliments (about the other).

The two contenders today are absolute opposites and lightning rods in their own right  for serious criticism — and at the same time heaped with praise by their fiercely fervent followers.  So how do we cut through the bombast and probably the insults and barbs and snide-ery to take the true measure of each of the contenders?

For sure, both are intelligent, strong-minder, powerful personalities who first names are front-of-mind in every corner of our country.

Back in May, as the two contenders were moving ahead in the polling, I shared thoughts on how to judge the “values” of the Republican and Democratic front-runner.

Update: Here is my May 2016 commentary — hope that it is helpful for you.

The nation is being perceived at home and abroad perceived as being deeply divided on many issues. Labels abound — signifying “I’m right/you are wrong” on many issues.

Labels:  Right-Left. Liberal-Conservative. New York City & Hollywood and the rest of the USA. The One Percent and the rest of us (the 99%).  Republican-Democrat, or at least by the labels of what that used to mean.

Look at the messages: Put up a big wall (a beautiful wall, 60-feet tall with a beautiful door) to keep “them” out vs. a more liberal immigration policy. No Muslims allowed vs. we cannot discriminate and the basis of religious or ethnic origin. (Remember that powerful First Amendment!) Tear up NAFTA vs. those advocating for free trade polices. Free tuition – for all in public universities. No more student loans. Vs everyone should pay their own way.

And on and on and on. If you own stock in ABC-TV (that is, in parent Walt Disney Company stock, the corporate owner)– or perhaps CNN (parent Time Warner) — or MSNBC (Comcast) or Fox (News Corp), you should be pleased. The ad campaign dollars have been flowing in and the best is yet to come in the general election cycle.

If you are the “average” American (whatever definition that is today), and you are trying to decide who to vote for, perhaps volunteer for, maybe click the payment button on the candidate web site to send money…well, you are not alone if you are anxious, confused, angry, disappointed, disgusted, hopeful, and more.

So I will briefly share some of my coaching techniques here that may help you to better evaluate “who” is deserving of your support and vote. (And DO vote this November; a lot is at stake!).

“The Rhetoric” — Not a Bad Word

We often toss around the term, “rhetoric” (as in, oh, that’s just political rhetoric) but the concept is very important. Here’s why.

Over the years in my professional life, and even in my personal dealings with leadership (when I volunteer to do so), my coaching for speech-making and more effective campaigning goes back about many centuries, to Ancient Greece and in the years of  300’s B.C.

We owe thanks to Ancient Greece for introducing us the first western concept of democracy. Think Demos in Ancient  Greece  the People. Greece was a direct form (not representative form) of democracy.  Rhetoric was as a system devised by the wise men to help the citizens (and not everyone was one) to understand politics and politicking (Polity, derived from the Greek word for citizen…politics should be all about the work of citizens in governing themselves in the democracy. )

The perfecter of the system of rhetoric was the great teacher,  Aristotle, He was born about 384 B.C. and died at age 62 in 322 B.C. He is credited with greatly influencing western philosophy, Islam and Judaism, and many philosophers and deep thinkers who would follow.

Aristotle is often credited with being the first tue scientist; creator of “logic” as we know it; was one of the most honored citizens and teachers of his time.

The important teaching relevant to this essay is about rhetoric  —  in the the Ancient Greek, the making of magnificent orator, a teacher. Here are brief highlights of what my partners  and I  adopted in our leadership coaching from the Aristotle’s teachings on rhetoric.  Aristotle believed there were three means of persuasion in the democracy:  reason, character and emotion.  These are all on display in 2016 in the U.S.A.

Ethics and Values Come First

First — consider ethos – from this our modern day term ” ethics” has descended. It’s about the values of the orator. What are his/her personal values, beliefs, actions, ethical behaviors? They are on display in the speaker up there on the podium, derived in great measure from the actions (walking the talk) as well as the pronouncements.

Second — consider pathos — from this we get modern day sympathy, empathy. It is about the connection with the audience (“hearer,” receiver of the oration]. Is the speaker connecting with the audience? Are they feeling connected with him/her?  Do they share values?  Do you share the values of the candidate(s) that you prefer in 2016?

Third — consider logos — the word from the Ancient Greek. We think of “logo” in terms of the familiar corporate branding but it means more. It is the word/words — the signs — coming from the speaker to the audience.  And other signals, some silent. (Doe she look you in the eye?  Does he seem uncomfortable up there?  Do you have a feeling that what the speaker is saying isn’t ringing true with you?)

Putting It All Together

So simply put, does the orator (1) demonstrate the values that the audience appreciates, agrees with, shares with the speaker? Is the speaker connecting with the audience in powerful ways? (The best of our preachers know well how to do this on Sunday mornings.) And are the words coming forth (the logos) resonating…creating empathy…”ringing true” with those listening?

This is the system of persuasive rhetoric. And in the end, if all this works, we achieve mythos…a powerful, memorable, moving story that will ripple out way beyond that immediate audience. In the Ancient Greek, it was about a teaching a fable. But we clearly remember childhood fables, don’t we? The turtle and the hare. Jack and the Beanstalk. LIttle Red Riding Hood and “grandma” Wolf.

And the mythos created by a candidate is very powerful. Think of President Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator. President Theodor RooseveltSpeak Softly and Carry the Big Stick.  President Franklin RooseveltWe Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!  President John KennedyAsk Not What Your Country Can Do For You!  These logos became the enduring legacy of many presidents.

And so whether conscious or not of the power of the system of rhetoric, we the listeners will no doubt be making up our minds on candidates in 2016 based on their rhetoric. The two front runners now — Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton — have mastered rhetoric, whether by conscious means or not.  You like them or not based on the system of rhetoric I’ve just set out for your use.

I am writing this summary for you, dear friend and voter, not the candidates. They have their own advisors. I’m sharing this so that you can watch and listen to the candidates and the campaigns as these unfold, and put the ethos-pathos-logos together and see if the mythos (story) adds up and matches your own story. (Every one of our lives and those of our loved ones, near and departed, is a story, right?  A story we tell over and over in various ways.}

It may be that you have to hold your nose or avert your eyes and cast your vote. Or, happily, a candidate may really touch you and their mythos resonates.

So far, the two political party outsiders — Senator Bernie Sanders and The Donald — have done a really good job of creating their stories, mostly anti-establishment, anti-status quo. Their rhetoric is resonating with enthusiastic, cheering audiences.

What are your issues? What keeps you up at night? What are your daily worries? Think about the ethos — the values of the candidate(s) — and think hard: do they match your feelings about key issues, etc.?

Having coached corporate executives, public officials, heads of activist organizations, and others in the Aristotlean method of the rhetoric, I must listen to the candidates through this lens. And so can you.

And, (sigh) since we are a very divided nation on so many issues, I am finding it challenging to nail down the mythos that most appeals to me. I think that many Americans are in the same boat.

As my colleague and friend Larry Checco (a brilliant essayist) writes, this year it’s not about political party anymore — it’s about COUNTRY! in this election cycle.  You can see his essay at:

And the 40% of the electorate that is reputed to be “independent” of party label or affiliation will be the determining factor in November.

When you hear “rhetoric,” keep in mind now that it is an ancient yet very powerful system to motivate you, the voter.  Use this guide in evaluating who should get your very precious gift in November – your vote!

Good luck to us all!

 

Personal footnote: My growin’ up hometown is Hempstead, New York (and semi-rural East Hempstead). How great it is for this hometown boy to see Hometown Hempstead and Hofstra University in the headlines ’round the clock!