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Votes

To the Editor: Recall Lessons Of History

— Re: “We Need to Talk” (July 3, 2013 editorial)

Yes, let’s talk about the importance of July 4 to us as individuals and to our city, state and nation — and remember how our freedoms have been won and protected. This special birthday anniversary of our country needs to be set aside for remembering our relevant history; current problems can to be addressed at other times.

I was disappointed the July 3 Gazette Independence Day editorial did not mention the name of George Washington, the indispensable man who served as commander-in-chief, taking charge in Cambridge, Mass. on July 3, 1775, a year and a day before Congress adopted the Declaration. His efforts were essential to counter serious opposition to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787. That document established our federal republic, not a democracy — and there are vast and important differences between them.

Washington was an Alexandrian! He chose to be one of us! a fact of which we are extraordinarily proud. He is certainly one of the most admirable men who ever lived; even King George III of England acknowledged him as the better man, and his name has been synonymous with integrity and excellence all over the world for more than two centuries. “Light-Horse” Harry Lee also deserves our commendation and thanks; he was one of Washington’s best cavalry officers and provider of essential captured supplies and intelligence; he too chose to live and rear his children in Alexandria. Of course, we must also give thanks for the contributions of the French like Lafayette, Rochambeau and De Grasse and their troops and sailors, German Baron von Steuben, and Polish volunteers Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski, who died shortly after the Battle of Savannah and is one of only seven to be awarded honorary U.S. citizenship.

Alexandrian George Mason should also be honored on July 4 for his words in the Virginia Declaration of Rights adopted unanimously by the Fifth Virginia Convention on June 12, 1776. Articles 1-3 address the subject of rights and the relationship between government and the governed. Article 1 states that "all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which . . . they cannot deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety," a statement later made internationally famous in the first paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, as "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Articles 2 and 3 note the revolutionary concept that "all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people ..." and that "whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, ….”; Jefferson used almost the same language in the Declaration.

Also, George Mason’s Virginia Constitution was an important model for our federal Constitution. His Virginia document served our state for almost 200 years.

Why should we regularly recall these facts during our July 4 celebrations? Lest their names and stirring contributions be lost to memory (or never learned) amidst the bustle and bother of today’s challenges.

Today we depend on newspapers to remind/teach us about important matters in our history because sadly, many Americans have never learned about these events, particularly if they attended college in the 1960s and later. Most colleges, even the elite, dropped the requirement for a course in American history. Many students attending T.C. Williams during the 1970s and 1980s when I taught English there also missed learning about that period. American history teachers (including one history department head) told me they didn’t teach the colonial and federal periods because they weren’t interested in such matters and neither were their students. An award-winning civics teacher told me she didn’t teach the Bill of Rights because it was boring. This unpatriotic theft of a vital part of our history from the curriculum was condoned by top TCW administrators. I was able to teach the Declaration over their vigorous objections only because I proved it was printed in our official English textbook as an important example of 18 century American literature — to their obvious surprise. I wonder how our poorly educated citizens can understand what is at stake in our current discussion of citizens’ rights and responsibilities.

Another point: It wasn’t the Constitution that “has kept us safe from invasion for almost 200 years”; it was our military. The British burned Washington in 1814 because our military defenses were woefully inadequate. In the 20th and 21st centuries, we were caught by surprise with terrible consequences. The lesson of July 4 is that we rely on our military to win and protect our freedom, and those brave patriots’ 237 years of sacrifice deserve our eternal thanks and gratitude. The least we can do is regularly recall their names and stories in our hearts.

Now let’s discuss appropriate limits on the federal government’s spying on American citizens in the name of enhanced security against terrorists’ attacks. We might remember from American history that the English king’s quartering of troops in Bostonians’ homes to report who said what to whom and observe citizens’ comings and goings was one of the outrages that sparked George Mason, George Washington and others to send them aid. Armed resistance to the Crown’s activities flared at Point Pleasant, Va. and Lexington, Mass., and our Revolution began in earnest even before the Declaration was adopted. To ensure protection against such invasions of our rights again, the Founders included the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights, a document always relevant and interesting.

Ellen Latane Tabb

Alexandria