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Our view: 'The better angels of our nature'




It began in April of 1775 as an armed conflict by a small group of Colonists fighting for their rights as subjects to the British crown. 


By the following summer, it had been transformed into something else. In mid-June of 1776, a five-man committee that included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were given the task of fashioning a document that would serve as a formal declaration not of the Colonies' rights under the British Crown, but as a free and independent state. 


As any school child will tell you, that document was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and is known quite simply as "The Declaration of Independence.''  


That the actual vote of the Congress happened on July 2 and that it was the end of August before the final signature was added to the document seems to hardly matter. Of all of the days in American history, probably no date is more closely aligned with the concept of patriotism than July 4. 


Sadly, there is probably no idea that has been more badly abused. 


Patriotism has been corrupted and co-opted, distorted and exaggerated, commercialized and, most grievously of all, politicized. 


In 1775, just weeks prior to the start of the American Revolution, English essayist Samuel Johnson noted that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."  


His words echo through the generations. 


Johnson was not criticizing patriotism. Rather, he criticized those who sought to manipulate it for their own purposes.  


That sort of thing persists today. In fact, it seems to flourish today. 


Patriotism, at least the corrupted brand that is so commonly employed in politics, is used to silence dissent or coerce compliance. It is always a sword and never a shield. 


It should be noted that Our Founding Fathers were wise enough to respect the purity of the concept of Patriotism. 


Often bitterly divided, they never brought patriotism into the fray. To them, it was a sacred thing, to be upheld and honored and respected.  


Today? The idea seems to be according no reverence at all. Wrap yourself in a flag and your opponents are vanquished not by the merit of your position, but by the stigma of being considered unpatriotic. It is indeed a tactic of the scoundrel. 


There are many issues that divide us as Americans. But it is important, as Americans, that we respect each other's love of our country. 


In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln stood on the precipice and saw the grave conflict that would soon follow. Lincoln's appeal to a divided country drips with the essence of patriotism in its purest form: 


"We are not enemies, but friends," Lincoln said. "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."



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