American Independence: A blessing or a curse?

The person who asked this question was none other than Patrick Henry.  To be quite honest, I am of the opinion that if the founders were to return to modern day American, they would be extremely disappointed in how their experiment turned out, which was the basis of my A Message from the Founders post. Additionally, the quote from Patrick Henry scholar, Henry Mayer, I mention in this post informed my comment:

The first man to speak identified himself as Patrick Henry. He explained that the group had been transported from 1774 to see what would become of their notion of Independence from Britain. Henry was extremely upset at misquotations made by “organisations such as The National Rifle Association and its ilk” regarding the ratification of the Constitution. “These remarks were in regard to the Militia and not private ownership of firearms”.

I have been thinking about the following quote from Patrick Henry and how it might relate to his opinion of the current state of the Union.

After Patrick Henry died, his family found among his papers one sealed envelope with this written on it: ” Enclosed are the resolutions of the Virginia Assembly, in 1765, concerning the Stamp Act. Let my executors open this paper.” There was a copy of the resolutions in his handwriting inside. On the back of the paper containing the resolutions was written in Henry’s handwriting:

“The within resolutions passed the House of Burgesses in May, 1765. They formed the first opposition to the Stamp Act, and the scheme of taxing America by the British Parliament. All the colonies, either through fear, or want of opportunity to form an opposition, or from influence of some kind or other, had remained silent. I had been for the first time elected a burgess a few days before, was young, inexperienced, unacquainted with the forms of the house, and the members that composed it. Finding the men of weight averse to opposition, and the commencement of the tax at hand, and that no person was likely to step forth, I determined to venture, and alone, unadvised, and unassisted, on the blank leaf of an old law-book, wrote the within. Upon offering them to the house, violent debates ensued. Many threats were uttered, and much abuse cast on me, by the party for submission. After a long and warm contest, the resolutions passed by a very small majority, perhaps of one or two only. The alarm spread throughout America with astonishing quickness, and the ministerial party were overwhelmed. The great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies. This brought on the war which finally separated the two countries, and gave independence to ours. Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God had bestowed upon us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader, whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere, practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

What does he mean by virtue?  Is he talking about characteristics that promote individual and collective well being? Does he mean it in the Aristotlean sense of being a mean between two extremes (For example, courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, confidence the mean between self-deprecation and vanity, and generosity the mean between miserliness and extravagance)?  Or is he talking about the Sainted personality which Americans desire, but human nature falls far short of being?

Also, there is a thin distinction between righteousness and self-righteousness. If he means righteousness as acting in accord with divine or moral law, was he truly righteous in engaging in his actions that caused the US to move into the mess it currently is in? Self-righteousness is a feeling of smug moral superiority derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person. It can give one conviction that their actions are correct when they are very wrong.

But the most important piece of this is “If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable.

We see a lot of self-righteous persons of contrary character in modern US politics.  US Politics is that of  division, which is most certainly contrary.  It seeks to promote various interests above others, often (as in the case of “gun rights”) that interest runs contrary to public interest.  The Right exploits single issues and manipulates religious faith to direct workers into voting for candidates who are a threat to their economic interests.

To Quote the Wisconsin AFL-CIO:

Union members have been fighting attacks on worker rights and protections on many fronts. These are not random, unconnected attacks. They are the result of a coordinated strategy by a corporate-funded ideological movement that aims to eventually destroy the labor movement. Other progressive movements have seen hard won gains attacked and eroded as well.

Think of fascism as an infection of the body politic that can occur when there isn’t a strong leftist working class identified party. Neither US party works toward the interest of the workers. Chris Hedges wrote a great piece called Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama about how he is just as much of a tool of big business as was Dubious Bush. But Liberals are to blame for failing to provide an alternative to the reactionary politics which is the norm in the United States.

Given the current state of affairs in the US, I am certain that Patrick Henry would have been a Tory.  But hindsight is 20-20 and he didn’t realise the mess he was creating for future generations when he acted so ill-advisedly in demanding independence before the nation was ready for it.

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