One hundred eighty nine years ago Frederic Douglass declared “America reigns without a rival” and it is still true to this day. Speaking on July 5th 1852 he said:
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? . . .
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival. (Read the entire speech here.)
America still reigns without rival in “revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy.” One may wonder whether America is truly without rival in this regard, but I believe that it is. The United States is in a unique position address the pressing questions of global poverty and climate change facing the world and yet we do nothing but exacerbate them. What to speak of global poverty while claiming the moral high ground we have very little to address poverty in our own country and almost nothing to redress the two hundred years of slavery and genocide that our country was founded upon. I would say that certainly qualifies as shameless hypocrisy. And I think allowing the global to die of starvation and lack of basic medical care and sanitation counts as barbarity. Without even mentioning our role in creating and sustaining these problems, as the economic and military leader of the world we have the most responsibility to address problems.
But Frederic Douglas also had this to say about the United States:
I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.
Douglass is right there is a sense in which this day should be celebrated. Not as the crowning achievement of mankind, not as the birth of the most glorious nation on Earth, but as the birth of a nation founded in glorious ideals.
Hopefully someday all citizens of this country will truly be able to celebrate the 4th July because it will be actually true that the everyone in the country will realize their unalienable rights, to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But until then our celebrations should be tainted with sadness, shame, regret, and disgust for the conduct of this great county that reigns without rival in barbarity and shameless hypocrisy.
Listen to James Earl Jones reading the words of Frederick Douglass here.