My father was fond of asking unsuspecting victims if they knew whether or not England had July Fourth. ”Of course not!” many of them would reply. ”England is hardly going to celebrate the success of the American Revolution!” ”But they do,” my father would then point out. ”It’s just after the Third, and immediately before the Fourth.”
Not much of a joke, perhaps, but it was amazing how many people — especially Boy Scouts — fell for it.
I can tell you, though, that the British don’t seem to celebrate American Independence Day. (Many years ago, right after my mission, my parents and I were in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Bavaria, near an American military base. They did celebrate it there, I can promise you.)
Which is why, I’m embarrassed to say, I completely forgot that yesterday was Independence Day.
So I just want to express my gratitude, now, a bit late, for the United States of America. For all its flaws and missteps over the years, and despite its current problems, America has been the most benevolent and the least toxic of great powers, and the guarantor of freedom for hundreds of millions of people. To have turned back and destroyed Fascism, and to have defeated Soviet Communism, would be achievement enough. To have bequeathed to the world the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with all of the attendant documents and precedents, is an unparalleled good.
And don’t think that slavery outweighs those goods. Americans paid hundreds of thousands of lives to end slavery, and the United States wasn’t alone in allowing that moral blight. (Aristotle philosophized on its behalf, as did many other leading thinkers thereafter.)
Yesterday, from the boat on Windermere, we saw an enormous house on the shore. It had, the narrator on the boat explained, been built with proceeds from the West African slave trade. I asked him for further details thereafter, and he mentioned that the owner, a Mr. John Leggard, had kept a West African slave in the house as his butler — who slept manacled in a dungeon below the house every evening. Now, many decades later, the slave’s body lies at one end of the Bowness churchyard, while Mr. Leggard’s lies at the other. There’s an unmistakable equality in death. We think we found the slave’s headstone; we couldn’t find Mr. Leggard’s. Perhaps there’s symbolic significance in that, too.
Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, England