Independence Day: Fourth of July
I trust my American friends are celebrating the meaning the Great
Republic has for them. All the best to you.
The United States is defined by a series of remarkable documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, The Gettyburg Address and for my generation, the "I have a Dream" speech of Dr. Martin Luther King. Each of these, and lesser writings have moved the country forward and shaped into what it is today.
I recently have spent some time reading ,and reading about, the Gettysburg Address. This short documents, in the midst of the Civil War, raised the understanding of that dreadful war from an economic dispute and war of whether the Nation could be broken up to a war to advance the significance of the nature of the Union made up of citizens under a government , "of the people, by the people, for the people. " The United States was to become a democratic and not a plutocratic republic. By the end of the Civil War this was underscored by the ending of slavery with the Amancipation Proclamation. Only in recent years has civil rights brought this close to a reality. There are now new threats to the nature of the democracy of the United States. One trusts the Nation will once again affirm the best of it's vision and tradition and overcome these challenges.
On You Tube there are several readings of the Gettysburg Address. Here is the one I like.
For Americans, I imagine, the challenge is to have their country continue to grow in the best of its tradition and thus continuing to honour those who fought and died in their dreadful fratricidal war. The battle of Gettysburg saw dreadful loss of life but proved to be pivotal in the Civil War such that in the end the Nation was preserved.
Whenever I study American history I am alway alert to small side issues that link it to Canada and even my own experience. At the Gettyburg Address there was a Canadian politician , William McDougall, who happened to be in Washington finalizing an economic treaty when Lincoln pressed for time, invited him to come along.
I recently learned that Lincoln had read sermons by the Reverend Theodore Parker, a very prominent Unitarian minister who was a very activist abolitionist. He lifed from Parker the idea of "of the people, by the people, for the people".
Even more interesting to me was the fact that at Lincoln's death there was a African Canadian doctor who tended him and kept notes as to his condition., Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott. He was the first black person to qualify as a doctor in Canada. His family, free men ,fled to Canada from Alabama and they prospered in Toronto. He was sent to the black school at Buxton, Ontario , which was on the Elgin Settlement established by fugative slaves. It was such a good school it became the first integrated school in Canada when the neighbouring white school was shut down and those children were sent to the Buxton School. I have long been interested in this small town and its history since reading "Look to the North Star, The Life of William King", by Victor Ullman.. This community, created by Reverend William King and funded by the Presbyterian Church, in its first generation produced clergymen and doctors, who studied at the University of Toronto, many of whom returned to the US. Dr. Abbott along with many from the community joined the Union Army and fought in the Civil War. A further interesting note is that he was not the only Canadian trained black doctor who served. The highest ranking doctor was an African American, Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta, who trained at University of Toronto, after being denied a medical education in the US and volunteered to serve in the Union Army.
How different Ameican history might have been if instead of clinging to slavery and passing the fugative slave laws and latter limiting the advancement of its black citizens with Jim Crow laws , the Canadian example of citizenship for fugative slaves, legal protections for their rights in the face of discrimination in Canada and the belief that education for the first generation of fugative slaves in Canada could succeed in producing men of letters and qualified professionals.
It is alway been ironic to me that so many fugative slaves returned to the US after the Civil War.
How strong is the hope and promise of the American vision. It was this vision that I think Lincoln was trying once again to advance in his brief poignant Address that day on the battlefield at Gettysburg.
May all Americans on this significant day, find a moment to reflect on the promise of the American vision and resolve to continue to struggle for its full realization.
Here is a lovely patriot song sung by Paul Robeson
I have always considered Paul Robeson a great and patriotic American although during is life he was persecuted for his views and outspoken opinions.