Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Though a participant in the revolutions of 1848 (about which I have my qualms), Carl Schurz strikes me as the embodiment of much that is great about America: An immigrant from Germany, Schurz settled in Wisconsin where he was admitted to the bar, lending his services to the anti-slavery movement. He joined the Republican Party, supported Abraham Lincoln, and led the Wisconsin delegation to the 1860 Republican National Convention. He served as Lincoln's ambassador to Spain and then as a general in the Union Army, commanding troops at Gettysburg, among other battles. After the war he became editor of the Detroit Post, before moving to St. Louis and the Westliche Post (Western Post). In 1869 he was elected to the US Senate, the first German-American in the chamber. He served as Secretary of the Interior in the Hayes administration, working hard to reform the Indian Office. After leaving the cabinet he moved to New York and resumed his newspaper work. He died in 1906.

In 1859, Schurz explained the nature of freedom to an audience in Massachusetts:

When the rights of one cannot be infringed without finding a ready defense in all others who defend their own rights in defending his, then and only then are the rights of all safe against the usurpations of governmental authority....

That there are slaves is bad, but almost worse is it that there are masters. Are not the masters freemen? No, sir! Where is their liberty of the press? Where is their liberty of speech? Where is the man among them who dares to advocate openly principles not in strict accordance with the ruling system? They speak of a republican form of government, they speak of democracy; but the despotic spirit of slavery and mastership combined pervades their whole political life like a liquid poison. They do not dare to be free lest the spirit of liberty become contagious. The system of slavery has enslaved them all, master as well as slave. What is the cause of all this? It is that you cannot deny one class of society the full measure of their natural rights without imposing restraints upon your own liberty. If you want to be free, there is but one way--it is to guarantee an equally full measure of liberty to all your neighbors. There is no other.

Forty years later in Chicago he gave an exposition on patriotism:

I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves... too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: "Our country, right or wrong!" They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: "Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right."

Today I tip my hat to our Founding Fathers, Charles Schurz and all the men and women who have made the United States of America the great place it is.
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