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Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rights and privileges

Today, checking out the Washington Post, I came across this article on the subject of "white privilege."  It's a concept I've encountered before--indeed, it apparently cost me one budding friendship with a reader here when I refused to "acknowledge it."  The author of the article is a white woman who shows the effects of elite higher education, where "white privilege" has become a favorite buzzword.  She argues that white people are more likely to get a second chance if they make a mistake in life, that white people are much richer than non-whites, and that they constantly benefit from connections to other whites.   Only white people, she quotes some one as saying, can benefit from unpaid internships that lead to better jobs.  And most white are unaware of these "privileges."

Now the data that she cites are valid, and white people, as a group, are the best-off ethnic group in the United States, without question.  Yet I am angry, frankly, to hear anyone argue that a good chance to advance in life, or freedom from profiling, or a job commensurate with one's abilities, can be regarded as a "privilege."  Those things should be rights, not privileges--things that everyone should enjoy.  The author does not specifically say that whites are better off because nonwhites are worse off, which I do not think is true, but she certainly implies that some sort of redress is in order, and she repeatedly says in effect that white people should feel guilty about their privilege.  And it is that that I cannot accept, because I don't think anyone should feel guilty about having secured the right to be treated like a human being.  From the standpoint of victimhood, I suppose, that's the beauty of the "white privilege" argument: a white person doesn't have to do anything to harm nonwhites to be guilty, they are guilty by virtue of being white.

I have just finished another draft of my book on the New Deal era, and I cannot help noticing another huge paradox about all this.  Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy generally used racially neutral rhetoric when discussing the need to broaden opportunities in the United States, and overt and legal racism persisted into the 1960s.  Yet the policies of those eras did far more for working people in the lower income groups of our society  than the policies of the last forty years, when we have bee obsessed with race, and when poverty, crucially, has been increasingly identified as a minority problem.  Poverty isn't a minority problem: there are still far more poor white people than poor black people in this country. (I don't know exactly what adding Hispanics into the mix would do to the numbers.)  Neither are drugs and crime, which go along with poverty.  The whole bottom half of our society is struggling and needs more jobs, higher wages, and better health care and services--rights, not privileges, which better-off people are more likely to have.  Meanwhile, it's a most undeserved privilege to pay absurdly low taxes on absurdly large incomes.  Yes, most of the people who do (though hardly all--see for instance the rosters of professional sports teams) are white, but they enjoy that privilege because they are rich, not because they are white, and it should not be a privilege of being rich.

The New Deal, I have found, had an extraordinary impact upon black as well as white Americans, not only because black Americans shared some of its benefits but also because it gave them that much more incentive to secure equal treatment.  They wanted to be part of the great national enterprise which Roosevelt and his Administration undertook.  Now there still are important ways in which the American system discriminates against nonwhites, most notably in the criminal justice system, and they very badly need to be fixed.  Even then, however, we would probably make more progress if we simply called for a broad, sweeping reform of our drug laws, which have imprisoned far too many people of all races, than by emphasizing racial issues.  Emphasizing white guilt is very effective in elite colleges and universities, but it plays disastrously in state and national politics.  Poverty, drugs, crime and the criminal justice system are national problems that in one way or another affect us all.  Recognizing that, I would suggest, is an essential step to reversing the economic trends of the last forty years, and asserting the rights of all citizens rather than complaining about the supposed privileges of one racial group.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The relentless Republicans

  My late friend Bill Strauss, who co-wrote Generations and The Fourth Turning with Neil Howe, used to argue back in the early 2000s that the break-up of the country was a genuine threat.  He thought the election of Hillary Clinton might trigger it.  In the last months of his life (in late 2007) he was excited by Barack Obama, but he turned out to be just as divisive as Hillary would have been.  (I do not think she would have been any less so, and since Obama essentially put a third Clinton Administration in place,. there's no particular reason to think that anything would have been very different ha she been elected.)   Now the Republican Party, now centered in the white South, is every bit as determined to make its dreams come true as the slaveholding South was before the Civil War, but their ideas are less controversial than slavery and they have also wisely adopted a new strategy.  Rather than try to break the country up, they are focusing on crippling the federal government and implementing their agenda of dismantling government in the states.  Nothing that has happened in the last five years has changed their agenda and they appear to be going forward on many fronts.

Thus, several stories this week detail the plans of the House Republicans: to demand cuts of 50% or more in various federal programs in exchange for continuing to fund the federal government.  They also seem committed to blocking immigration reform.  If anything they seem more hostile towards compromising Republicans in the Senate than they are towards Democrats, perhaps because they are confident that they can continue defeating them in primaries.  They enjoy the 24/7 support of Fox News (which a good many retirees watch from morning till night), all the money they need from the Koch brothers and their ilk, and the patronage of talk radio.  They refused to pass the food stamp program as part of the farm bill, and they look forward to another round of cuts under the sequester next year. 

Meanwhile, Republican dominated state governments are pushing their agenda as hard as possible.  While I understand why many people oppose abortion I cannot understand the depth of the crusade the Republicans are on to stop it, passing more and more restrictive laws destined to be overturned by the federal courts.  Opposition to Washington and all it stands for seems to have become an end in itself.  On another front, the Republican government of North Carolina has just passed the most restrictive voting law it could imagine--a law now immune to challenge under the voting rights act, although not, of course, under the 14th or 15th amendment.  It requires one of a very small number of photo ids (perhaps either a driver's license or a passport), ends same-day registration, cuts back on early voting and, incredibly, forbids polling places from remaining open past their closing time even if people are backed in lines waiting to cast their vote.  It will undoubtedly be imitated in other Republican states.

The same ideological fervor dominates the votes of four Supreme Court justices, who have given us Citizens United, Heller, the end of the Voting Rights Act, and much more.  And now we learn than John Roberts has been using his power as Chief Justice to pack the FISA court, which oversees national security searches, with Republicans, including many veterans of the Bush executive branch.  That is why the court has rubber-stamped every NSA program.  In a rare, hopeful political note, a coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats barely failed to pass limits on national security searches in the House of Representatives.  That is one of odd features of the new Republicans: their hostility to the federal government includes the national security bureaucracy and even the Department of Defense.

The conservative Republicans, alas, are similar to the New Dealers I have been writing about for the last few years, in that they have been part of the same network for the whole of their adult lives, reinforcing their beliefs and nurturing one another emotionally.  They have accomplished an extraordinary amount over the last forty years, and especially the last twenty, drastically shrinking most of the federal government (really all of it except benefit programs) as a percentage of GDP, dismantling the regulatory structure, cutting taxes to historic lows, and securing a fairly dependable majority on the Supreme Court.  In the Senate they have used minority power more aggressively than any national party in American history, using tactics that southern Democrats used to save to fight civil rights legislation to stop almost anything the Administration wants to do.  Their demographics are shrinking and the country may be tiring of them, but nothing seems to be able to threaten their self-confidence.  The Weimar Republic collapsed in large part because an informal Parliamentary alliance of Communists and Nazis refused to vote for anything, forcing three chancellors to rely on emergency powers that do not exist under the US Constitution and paving the may for Hitler's accession to power.  We are not suffering economic distress on the scale that the Germans did in the early 1930s, but our government is nearly as paralyzed, and things may get worse.  The Democrats, meanwhile, lack any comparable organization or commitment to an agenda.  They combine, in effect a residual belief in government with nearly equal subservience to corporate America.  Nate Silver, who is now leaving the New York Times, recently analyzed the history of elections held after one party has been in office for two terms.  They showed a great many very close elections and no clear pattern.  The Republican Party cannot be counted out for 2016, and the Democrats desperately need a more broadly appealing candidate than Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden.  It is not clear who that would be.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Martin and Zimmerman

The Anglo-American legal system has developed over many centuries.  Most Americans probably have no idea that the colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries brought English common law principles with them and that English precedents are routinely cited in US court opinions even now.  Trial by jury, the adversary process, and the presumption of innocence are all inherited from the British.  They often disappoint Americans in individual cases because they do not seem dedicated to establishing the truth.  What Americans do not understand is that the alternative to verbal combat in the courtroom is armed combat in the streets, rather like what occurs today in Russia or in many lawless neighborhoods and regions of the world.  If citizens are going to trust their fellow citizens with their property, their freedom, or even their life, they have to be free to hire lawyers who will fight as hard as they can for them.  The public expects the same of its prosecutors, who will indeed do anything they can legally get away with to secure a conviction.

Yesterday President Obama redefined the case as a problem of racial profiling.  To some extent it undoubtedly was: Martin looked to Zimmerman like a suspicious punk in part, undoubtedly, because he was black. (I heard one civil rights leader say on PBS that all of the more than 40 calls Zimmerman had made to the police as part of his neighborhood watch related to black men, but I don't know if that is true.)  But all the same, that in itself did not lead to Martin's death.  Martin would almost surely be alive today if Zimmerman had waited for the police to arrive--or if Zimmerman had not been allowed to venture out onto the street armed to confront a stranger.  The real problem illustrated by the case is the vigilante culture, long a feature of life in the southern United States, which I discussed at length more than a year ago when Martin's death first became a national issue, on April 6, 2012.  In the South as in the Old West, it has long been a tradition that there is something noble about taking the law into one's own hands, as Scarlett O'Hara did when she shot a Yankee soldier who presumed to cross the threshold at Tara or Rhett Butler did when he killed a black man who he thought had insulted a white woman.  (The original post went into this at length.)  Zimmerman took advantage of Florida's easy laws on concealed weapons--laws that are similar to those of many red states--to follow Martin armed.  He was probably familiar with the "stand your ground" law--which the judge did mention in her charge to the jury as a possible defense of Zimmerman's behavior--which allowed him unhesitatingly to use his weapon when things turned violent.  And that is what he did.

Weirdly, the Zimmerman trial now raises some of the same issues as the Eichmann trial that I discussed last week.  We are experiencing the same difficulty the Israelis did, as documented by Hannah Arendt: the problem of reducing the trial simply to the facts of Zimmerman, the accused, did or did not do.  He, like Eichmann, is being tried for the real and presumed crimes of a larger group, racist or frightened white people who assume the worst about young black men.  But he was actually on trial for second degree murder or manslaughter, under laws which would make it very difficult to convict him of either one.  Second-degree murder requires intent to kill; manslaughter requires intent to injure.  But neither would apply of Zimmerman felt genuinely under attack by Martin, and there was evidence that he did.  Certainly there was no clear proof that we was not under attack, which is what would have been required, it seems to me, to have found him guilty on either charge.

Yet many of us are deeply troubled because of the other obvious fact about the case: that if Zimmerman had minded his own business or waited for the cops, Martin would be alive today.  I heard another legal expert say that nothing Zimmerman did that night before the violent confrontation was illegal.  That surprised me because it is my understanding that, at least in theory, even a policeman needs some probable cause to think a crime may be committed to stop and question a citizen on the street, and thus one would think that the same rule would apply to a private citizen.  Several lawyers, including a criminal defense attorney, read these posts and I would appreciate any comments from them.  But what allowed Zimmerman's behavior to become fatal to Martin was the right to carry a concealed weapon.  Many--perhaps most--states had reserved that right for people like security guards who had a specific need for one, but now permissive legislation is as much a part of the typical red state legal code as abortion restrictions.  The NRA, one of our most powerful lobbies, wants laws like that everywhere.  It apparently welcomes a world ruled by swift vigilante justice.

I hope that the Justice Department does not charge Zimmerman with a civil rights violation or a hate crime.  I have never believed in the concept of hate crimes anyway--murder is murder and while motive is part of every trial, it should not create separate laws.  But in this case any new jury would have to deal with the same lack of knowledge of what happened.  Only a totally politicized jury, it seems to me, would be able to decide that Zimmerman killed Martin because he hated him as a black man, not because he was in the middle of a fight and possibly getting the worst of it.

The red states are culturally a separate nation, as I argued in April 2012.  The President would not touch this issue.  He stuck to the issue of profiling to meet the concerns of part of his constituency, and because he claims to have experienced it himself.  I am no one to claim that he has not, but I don't think profiling was the critical issue in this case. Vigilante behavior was.  That behavior is now legal in much of America and no one dares to take it on.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On Hannah Arendt

This week my wife and I saw the German film Hannah Arendt, which focuses on her coverage of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961-2 for The New Yorker and the heated controversy over the resulting book.  (Curiously, while some scenes appear to feature a very hostile Norman Podhoretz and Lionel Trilling, neither one is identified in the credits by their full name.)  The filmmakers did a remarkable job with a rather uncinematic topic, and they used genuine footage from the Eichmann trial effectively.  They focused, naturally,. on the most controversial part of her reporting, her criticism of the Jewish councils set up by the Nazis, whom she claimed made it much easier to send all the Jews to death camps.  I liked the film but I felt something was missing, and when I spent about an hour last night re-reading Eichmann in Jerusalem I realized what it was.  Arendt, as the very first pages of the first New Yorker article made crystal clear, approached the whole subject of the trial from her own unique perspective, the same perspective that dominates her masterpiece, The Origins of Totalitarianism.  Herself an agnostic German Jew, she received a doctorate in philosophy but left Germany for France during the Nazi period.  Briefly detained in a French camp for enemy aliens in 1940, she escaped and in 1941 managed rather fortunately to get a visa to enter the United States.  Although she returned for some time to Germany after 1945, she became an American citizen and taught at a number of American colleges and universities in the 1950s and 1960s, dying at just 69 in 1975.

One does not have to get to the third page of Eichmann in Jerusalem to realize where Arendt is coming from.  The Israeli government, she explains, designed the Eichmann trial as a show trial designed to educate its own population and the Jews of the diaspora about the mortal threat of anti-Semitism, but the Israeli judges, led by one Moshe Landau, showed at once that they, like Arendt, understood that a real trial had to focus only on the defendant and the crimes that he had committed.   In the same opening chapter Arendt angrily notes that the prosecutor, following the lead of the Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, who had authorized Eichmann's kidnapping in Argentina in order to make the trial possible, argued that only Jews could be trusted to bring the enemies of Jews to justice--the reason why Israel refused even to entertain the possibility of an international tribunal, a kind of reconvened Nuremberg, to handle the case.  And then, on p. 7, she could not refrain from mentioning that Israeli law at that time--and I believe even now--did not allow for civil marriage and thus made it impossible for Jews to marry non-Jews within Israel, similarly, as she herself noted, to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which the prosecutor did not hesitate to denounce as proof of the evil of the Nazis in general and Eichmann in particular.  Nor did Arendt forbear to mention that none of the other newspaper correspondents present took any note of that irony.  Both her merciless sense of justice and her trust in herself were truly Orwellian.  "The trial," wrote Arendt, "was supposed to show [younger Israelis] what it meant to live among non-Jews, to convince them that only in Israel could a Jew be safe and live an honorable life."  Both her devotion to the universal principles of the Enlightenment and her decision to become an American citizen testified to her rejection of that belief.  She also noted the contradiction between the idea of the Jews as a unique people who must depend only upon themselves and the idea of Zionism as a movement designed to give the Jewish people a homeland like that of any other--a contradiction that still plagues the Jewish state today.  The conviction "of the eternal and ubiquitous nature of anti-Semitism," she wrote, "produced the dangerous inability of the Jews to distinguish between friend and foe. . . .If Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, to all practical purposes the head of the Jewish state, meant to strengthen this kind of "Jewish consciousness," he was ill advised; for a change in this mentality is actually one of the indispensable prerequisites for Israeli statehood, which be definition has made of the Jews a people among peoples, a nation among nations, a state among states, depending now on a plurality which no longer permits the age-old and, unfortunately, religiously anchored dichotomy between Jews and Gentiles."

That, however, was not all.  Arendt noted that the trial had forced the German government to take note of certain very prominent former Nazis who had played substantial roles in mass murder and who had been living normal lives in Germany ever since the war--although the sentences they received when convicted, usually just a few years of hard labor, seemed quite inadequate for participants in such crimes.  She also noted that the West German government had not had the courage to ask for the extradition of Eichmann so that they could try him themselves, and later she added that the government minister Franz-Joseph Strauss, in a recent election campaign, had attacked the socialist Willy Brandt, the greatest German statesman of the second half of the twentieth century, for having spent the Nazi years as a refugee outside the country.  Both the Israeli and the West German governments were falling short of the standard she applied to all--the ruthless pursuit of impartial justice--and she didn't care who knew it.

I suspect that these kinds of points, which recur throughout the book, played a great part in inflaming Jewish-American opinion against Arendt, but the actual attacks on her focused upon two other points. The first was her portrait of Eichmann himself, which I confirmed for myself after reading the book by reading the edited version of his interrogation which has now been published in English.  He was both a man without illusions and without apparent feelings.  While he was never the key figure in the Holocaust which the prosecution sought to make him--he had no real decision-making power, and his own preferred solution to "the Jewish question" had been immigration, not extermination--he loyally facilitated mass murder to the best of his ability after it was officially mandated late in 1941 because that was expected of him.  He was not, as his Israeli interrogator evidently had expected him to be, a raving anti-Semite of the type of Julius Streicher, and he had no personal grudges against Jews.  The Israeli psychiatrists who examined him pronounced him remarkably normal,. and so he was, in the sense that he was not the sort of person who would ever have sought therapy on his own.   The question of how so many Germans played, in one way or another, Eichmann's role,. was much better elucidated by another German Jewish woman, the psychoanalyst Alice Miller, about twenty years after Arendt's book, but I will leave that for another day.  The second point which was seized on even more eagerly by her detractors was her observation that the Jewish authorities set up by the Germans, both in Germany itself and in occupied territories, had helped the Germans carried out all their policies, right up until the day when they ordered Polish Jews, for instance, to report for deportation to death camps.  That was painful but true.  It proved that the Nazi experience had stripped almost everyone of their humanity and personal courage, but Arendt emphasized the almost to preserve the hope that human life might prove worthwhile.

In no way did Arendt attempt to exonerate Eichmann, and she concluded her summary of the trial with her own idea of what the trial judge should have said.  "Just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of other nations," she wrote"--as thought you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and should not inhabit the world--we find that no one, that is, no member of the human  race, can be expected to share the earth with you.  This is the reason, and the only reason, why you must hang."  The book is a meditation on the all too widespread moral bankruptcy which the Nazi period unleashed, balanced by an unshakeable commitment to the values that would defeat it.

Near the end of the film, a reporter asks Arendt how she reacted to the United States, and she replies, "Paradise." I have no idea whether she actually said that, and it doesn't sound to me like something she could say.  But I am sure she loved the United States precisely because of its foundation upon the Enlightenment principles in which she so deeply believed--and because she understood that they were the only principles that could sustain modern life on earth.   The world is now forgetting that once again.  To be reminded of those principles, we must reread The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Cultural decline

    For nearly two months now, I have been living once again in the Boston area, where I spent nearly the entire period 1965-80.  Much is changed, much is the same.  Public transportation is better than ever and the area has become very bike-friendly.  A large hispanic influx has changed the face of many areas, such as Somerville, which has become a happening place, nearly as unrecognizable as Bethesda, Maryland is to one who first knew it in the 1950s.  Meanwhile, it is still a fine area for movies.  There are three art house multiplexes within a 20 minute drive of my house in Newton, Brookline and Cambridge.  The Brattle, the legendary home of twice-yearly Bogart festivals back in the 1960s, survives, playing a mixture of cheap independent films and repertory.  (I took in a showing of Jaws there on July 4).  But there is something rather striking about the audiences in the art houses.  They appear to be the same people I went to the movies with 35-45 years ago--not the same age group, but literally the same people.  Often one has to search the audience quite carefully to find any people under 40.  All three theaters offer senior discounts, but I have joked that their marketing strategy is backwards: the seniors come out of interest.  They should be discounting the younger folk to get them into the habit of going to the movies at all.

    And this is, sadly, a reflection of what has happened to movies and to the way young people spend their time.  Like everything else in our society, movies as they have come under the control of the Boom generation have become driven purely and simply by market forces.  The studios have been focusing almost entirely on young adults for decades now, and young adults, according to their research, seem to want nothing but action films and romantic comedies.  And indeed, in a tragic reversal of the pattern I and my contemporaries lived through, young people seem to LOSE interest in movies when they go to college.  The Harvard Square, which has been a multiplex for about thirty years, was shut down by the chain that owns it about a year ago and there are no plans to re-open it.  It could not draw enough students on a regular basis to stay alive.   Young parents still take their kids to cartoons and such, of course, but they do not seem to go very often themselves. 

When talking movies began 85 years or so ago, they drew on existing art forms: theater and literature.  Writers wrote scripts, and Hollywood employed many of the best writers in the nation.  Successful books and plays automatically became movies.  All this happens much more rarely now, and virtually every major serious project is heavily compromised by the studios.  Boz Luhrmann's Gatsby is an example: every driving scene has been turned into a car chase, undoubtedly to try to appeal to the young male audience, and the sound track is a mix of great 1920s jazz and hip-hop.  It's ironic that Wall Street, which Oliver Stone made when the GI generation still ruled in Hollywood, is a classic, while Wall Street II, made in the Boomer-dominated era, was a disaster.  Hollywood has spent millions finding the least common denominator of taste.  It seems to have abandoned any serious artistic ambitions.  And ironically, the results are turning out to be disastrous: the industry is reported to be in deep trouble, and Steven Spielberg has predicted that within a few years the only movies left will be special effects spectaculars for which we will have to spend $50 a ticket.

Nineteenth and twentieth century culture was built largely around words--but we are now so awash in words that it is harder and harder for anyone to make a living putting them into print.  The same market-driven culture has transformed publishing, which also pursues the lowest common denominator.  Newspapers are of course in a very serious condition.  The idea that a firm might simply want to publish and market a book because of its quality is still alive, but only barely.  We do not know yet what the impact of e-books is going to be.

A cousin of mine has remarked, quite rightly, that we are living in a great age of television. He was referring of course to the new genre of cable series, from The Sopranos through Six Feet Under to The Wire and my personal favorite, Breaking Bad.  (I exclude Mad Men, which this season confirmed all my growing doubts about it--perhaps on another day I will explain why.)  All those shows succeeded because they reflected the creative version of a single person.  The newer HBO shows, however, are once again skewed towards younger demographics and have been, to me at least, much less impressive. I have tried to get into Girls three times but it is simply hopeless.  I didn't see anything as funny as Lena Dunham's Obama commercial.

Western civilization, as I have said many times, is in retreat on the political as well as the artistic front.  That is the way of the world.  A civilization that takes itself and its art seriously and that devotes time and resources to bringing out the best its people have to offer inevitably commands respect, both inside and outside its own frontiers.  A self-confident western civilization spread its influence over nearly the entire globe from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, but I think it's pretty clear that that process has now been reversed.

The book The Closing of the Western Mind still sits unfinished on my "to read" self.  I have been occupied with finishing my own book and haven't had the energy to tackle such a daunting task.  By the end of July I hope to do so.  I am sure the comparison of the aftermath of the Roman Empire with our own era will be a very interesting one.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

In honor of the glorious 4th

In June 1826 Thomas Jefferson was invited to a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signature of the Declaration of Independence in Washington.  He was in very poor health and had only one remaining ambition: to live until that day, as indeed he, and John Adams, did.  This was his reply. Emphasis added.

Monticello June 24. 26
Respected Sir
The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th. anniversary of American independance; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. it adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. but acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. may it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the City of Washington and of it's vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. with my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.