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Editorial: Thoughts for Independence Day

Today’s holiday, marking the date when America declared independence from a king, might be called Democracy Day, because it celebrates the launch of the world’s first modern nation “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Crude democracies had been attempted in ancient Greece and Rome, but it wasn’t until 1776 that citizen-run government finally became possible. America’s radical founders studied ideas from Enlightenment thinkers and created a nation ruled by its public, not by an autocrat. Now, democracy is the standard of the world.

(Incidentally, abolitionist Unitarian minister Theodore Parker — who secretly helped fund John Brown’s raid in what is now West Virginia — declared in a lecture: “Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people,” and Abraham Lincoln adapted his words.)

Patriotism is lauded on Independence Day, as it should be. However, American patriotism can be translated to mean support for any wars started by Washington politicians. That’s regrettable. Genuine patriotism — love of country — has a deeper meaning. It means caring intensely for America and trying to make the nation better. In fact, we think the highest patriots try to prevent unwise wars, as West Virginia’s late Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Barack Obama did during President Bush’s stampede to invade Iraq.

Patriotism also means support for America’s ideals: human rights and democratic freedom. America’s republic, with its Bill of Rights guaranteeing personal protection from the majority, became a model for the whole world.

As usual, we reprint some thoughts for this special day.

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” — Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

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“Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation on earth.” — Woodrow Wilson

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“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” — Mark Twain

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” — Emma Lazarus, inscription for the Statue of Liberty

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“In America, anyone can become president. That’s one of the risks you take.” — Adlai Stevenson

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“The United States is a land of free speech. Nowhere is speech freer — not even here [in England] where we cultivate it in its most repulsive form.” — Winston Churchill

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“It’s the responsibility of the media to look at the president with a microscope, but they go too far when they use a proctoscope.” — Richard M. Nixon

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“When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most is that things were as bad as we had been saying they were.” — John F. Kennedy

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“Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” — Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg address

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“There is America, which at this day serves for little more than to amuse with stories of savage men and uncouth manners, yet still, before you taste of death, may show itself equal to the whole of that commerce which now attracts the envy of the world.” — Edmund Burke, English statesman (1729-1797)

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“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” — Will Rogers

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“Americans... are a race of convicts and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging.” — Samuel Johnson, English writer (1709-1784)

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“Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.” — Carl Schurz

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“Democracy is the name we give the people when we need them.” — Robert Pellive, Marquis de Flers

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“As an anti-American, I thank you for your rotten article devoted to my person.” — Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia, in letter to Time magazine

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“Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.” — Jack Paar

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“It is Europeans, for the most part, who have constructed these great ships, but without America they have no meaning. These ships are alive with the supreme ecstasy of the modern world, which is the voyage to America.” — Thomas Wolfe

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“The constitution does not provide for first and second class citizens.” — Wendell L. Willkie

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“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” — Plato

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“Democracy’s real test lies in its respect for minority opinions.” — Ellery Sedgwick

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“What is freedom? Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for yourself the alternatives of choice. Without the possibility of choice and the exercise of choice, a man is not a man but a member, an instrument, a thing.” — Archibald MacLeish

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“If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” — Aristotle

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“Politics has got so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to get beat with.” — Will Rogers

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“The voice of protest, of warning, of appeal is never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum, echoed by the press and too often by the pulpit, is bidding all men fall in and keep step and obey in silence the tyrannous word of command. Then, more than ever, it is the duty of the good citizen not to be silent.” — Charles Eliot Norton

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“Now and then an innocent man is sent to the Legislature.” — Kin Hubbard

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“The justification of majority rule in politics is not to be found in its ethical superiority.” — Walter Lippmann

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“No other factor in history, not even religion, has produced so many wars as has the clash of national egotism sanctified by the name of patriotism.” — Preserved Smith

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“All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.” — Adlai Stevenson

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“What’s right about America is that although we have a mess of problems, we have great capacity — intellect and resources — to do something about them.” — Henry Ford

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“I feel that I am a citizen of the American dream and that the revolutionary struggle of which I am a part is a struggle against the American nightmare.” — Eldridge Cleaver

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“This is still a very wealthy country. The failure is of spirit and insight.” — Jerry Brown

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“There is no conflict between liberty and safety. We will have both or neither.” — Ramsey Clark

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“We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.” — Alexander Hamilton

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“Freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained except by despotic governments.” — George Mason

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“A bureaucrat is a Democrat who holds some office that a Republican wants.” — Alben W. Barkley

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“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” — George Bernard Shaw

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“America has had gifted conservative statesmen and national leaders.... But with very few exceptions, only the liberals have gone down in history as national leaders.” — Gunnar Myrdal

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“Goddammit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like living in jail.” — Richard Wright

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“America, thou half-brother of the world, with something good and bad of every land.” — Philip James Bailey

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“When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw a breath of self-respect.” — Adlai E. Stevenson

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“Any well-established village in New England or the northern Middle West could afford a town drunkard, a town atheist, and a few Democrats.” — Denis William Brogan

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“They (the Americans) have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man, they judge that the diffusion of knowledge must necessarily be advantageous, and the consequences of ignorance fatal.... America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement.” — Alexis de Tocqueville

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“I am a 100 percent American. I am a super-patriot. I am an anti-Darwinian intellectual. Any man that says that any nice young boy or gal is a descendant of the ape shall never from Hell’s fire escape.” — William W. Woollcott

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“The 100 percent American is 99 percent an idiot.” — George Bernard Shaw

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“The heaviest calamity in English history, the breach with America, might never have occurred if George the Third had not been an honest dullard.” — Sir James George Frazier

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“It probably could be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.” — Mark Twain

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“What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coast, our army and our navy. These are not our reliance against tyranny. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men.” — Abraham Lincoln

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“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.” — Thomas Jefferson

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“If anyone hauls down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” — John Adams Dix (to a Union official in Confederate New Orleans, 1861)

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“Made in Taiwan” — label on American flag, 1990

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“I swear to the Lord, I still can’t see / why Democracy means everybody but me.” — black poet Langston Hughes

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“America is God’s crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races... are melting and re-forming.” — Israel Zangwill

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“Rockin’ and a-rollin’, splishin’ and a-splashin’, over the horizon, what can it be? Looks like it’s going to be a free country.”

“No More Kings,” lyrics by Lynn Ahrens


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