Do you find that title a provocative statement? Are you screaming at your monitor, “Idiot! Of course, it does! Everyone knows that!” Because if you are screaming that, you are not alone. Millions believe just as you do. Those millions and you are also terribly wrong.
How can I say that? Actually pretty easily because I have not just taken someone’s word for what it says. Rather, I have read the First Amendment for myself. And the Second et al. And the Constitution. And the Declaration of Independence. And some of the Federalist Papers. Plus a host of other related things. I also have half a Master’s in Political Science so you might expect this. Maybe one of these days I will get to that other half and finish it. However we are talking about you not me.
With the 241st birthday of our nation just a few days away, there is no better time amidst all the celebrations and high sounding words about what we are celebrating than now to read the founding documents of this great country. It could not be easier with them online from any number of sources starting with the National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs) where you can not only read them but see the documents including the back of them. Just hold off on the lemon juice because your monitor will not take very kindly to it.
What you will find when you read them is the lack of a filter. That is, the absence of anyone interpreting or telling you what they say and what they mean. It will be just you and the documents, and what they say and what you think about what they say now that the line from them to you is direct. We call this going to the primary source, in other words, the original document or recording or picture. Generally, we deal with secondary sources who interpret the primary sources such as when we read or hear an account of a speech. There will probably be excerpts of the primary source in the account, but the bulk of it is through the filter of the person presenting the account.
Whereas when you are reading the founding documents for yourself, you will be face to face with the Declaration of Independence, “When in the course of human events…” and the Constitution, “We the People of the United States …” and the Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law…” It is definitely different to read them like that and you will most likely be surprised by at least one thing you read. A good surprise. The kind of surprise that you will be glad occurs because you learned something you did not know or you found that what you thought before reading them was not quite right, or maybe, you were right. Unless, of course, you began reading this by screaming at your monitor.
This is not to disparage secondary sources because without them we would be lost in a sea of information and not enough time to process any of it. However, there are certain things that we should take the time to see, hear, and read for ourselves. Our founding documents are among those things because they are responsible for how the country has been constructed and how it is being shaped for the present and the future. The only way you can be sure you know what is going on is to read them for yourself.
So let us go forth into this 241st Fourth of July holiday resolved to read our founding documents and look at them anew from the vantage point of our own knowledge and understanding. To further the cause of freedom and liberty they embody and tell others you know to do the same. Think of the difference a year from now, when we are heading into the 242nd Fourth of July, if as many people as possible were to read those documents for themselves and know that indeed, the First Amendment does not grant the right to free speech. (If you are still wondering about that, go read the amendment. If you find yourself wondering even after reading it, post something or feel free to contact me directly.)
Happy 241st Birthday, America!