A vintage Independence Day card wishes you an explosive holiday.

A vintage Independence Day card wishes you an explosive holiday.

So you’re home today (I hope) or doing some enjoyable traveling. Maybe you’d like to watch something uplifting.

(No, I don’t mean the slightly odd vintage holiday card posted above. But go here to Mashable to see more.)

Via an Arizona lawyer I know named Alex Benezra and a great Facebook conversation he started, it occurred to me we should be declarative today—the Declaration of Independence, in particular.

Alex mentioned that he had just listened to the Declaration being read, and what a great experience that was.

Watching it recited can be moving, as well. So take a few minutes to enjoy some famous actors recite the Declaration (yes, the video opens with Mel Gibson; sorry about that, but the piece is a few years old).

And then enjoy a clip from the HBO series on John Adams. If you’re pressed for time, the 3:00 mark is a good place to jump in.

Have a marvelous Independence Day.

Fireworks fail. Legal in Arizona? Consult a map and ask a legislator. Stupid in Arizona? Every day, every way.

Legal in Arizona? Consult a map and ask a legislator. Stupid in Arizona? Every day, every way.

There’s a real love–hate relationship with fireworks. You could say people run hot or cold on the topic.

That is illustrated well in Arizona, where we legislate their purchase and use in ways that are not always entirely clear to the governed.

This week, an Arizona Republic story tries to clear the smoke from the issue. Titled “Valley cities brace for revamped fireworks law,” it opens:

“Cities and towns across metro Phoenix hope a change in state fireworks laws doesn’t prompt an increase in fires this Fourth of July. Senate Bill 1158, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April, requires municipalities in Maricopa and Pima counties to allow the sale and use of ground fireworks around July 4 and New Year’s Day.”

“The law allows their sale from May 20 through July 6 and from Dec. 10 through Jan. 3 and their use from June 24 through July 6 and from Dec. 24 through Jan. 3.”

Well, what could be confusing about that?

Read the whole story here.

In the law’s defense, the whole thing was pretty confusing before. Nearly everywhere you go, fireworks have been available for sale—but whether you could light them off was another matter.

I’ve always appreciated the irony of politicos bemoaning a lack of civic engagement and low levels of understanding of government, while allowing fireworks to be sold EVERYwhere—and then scratching that heads when people don’t “get it” that they can’t actually set them off most places.

I suppose lawmakers thought folks liked to display them in their dining room.

Are you planning on setting off anything more powerful than sparklers this Independence Day? And do you give a lot of thought to statutory pronouncements on fireworks, or do you take a more, ahem, intuitive approach to the matter?

Sure, you may be able to buy them. But are fireworks legal to set off in your community?

Sure, you may be able to buy them. But are fireworks legal to set off in your community?

Sure, you may be able to buy them. But are fireworks legal to set off in your community?

Sure, you may be able to buy them. But are fireworks legal to set off in your community?

Not to be a wet blanket, but there is an interaction between Independence Day and the law.

No, I don’t mean that obvious connection that involves Founding Fathers signing a letter to a king.

Instead, I refer to the annual question about fireworks: legal or illegal (or illegal but safe to set off)?

As you make your own ethical and legal decisions for the next day and evening, I point you to an Atlantic article about “The Great Illegal Fireworks Crackdown of 2013.” (Dramatic? Yes. But effective too.)

Here’s how writer Arit John opens:

“This Fourth of July, feel free to grill as many burgers and drink as many beers as your heart desires. But know that if you decide to partake in one of the most American traditions of all — driving over state lines and returning with a trunk load of fireworks — cops all across the nation will be waiting for you more than ever.”

Read the complete article here.

And click here for detail about your own Arizona community’s position on fireworks.

Have a great Fourth.

One day to the American declaration of freedom from British tyranny? That’s all we give?

Respectfully, I dissent.

Edward Savage and/or Robert Edge Pine, “Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence,” c. 1776. Copyprint of oil on canvas, courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Yesterday, on the occasion of a nation’s unalienable love for hot dogs and hamburgers, I posted a brief speech uttered by Judge Learned Hand that I thought touched well upon the sentiments that underlie our Oath of Allegiance. You may read it here.

Today, the revelry isn’t done. I enjoyed an item that came my way via the great folks at the Library of Congress.

As they say:

“The Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and heavily amended by the Continental Congress, boldly asserted humanity’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as well as the American colonies’ right to revolt against an oppressive British government. Jefferson’s ‘original Rough draught’ illustrates Jefferson’s literary flair and records key changes made by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and the Continental Congress before its July 4, 1776 adoption.”

(Taken from Our Nation’s Archives: The History of the United States in Documents, edited by Erik Bruun and Jay Crosby, Black Dog & Levanthal Publishers Inc. 1999)

To make your perusal easier, I’ve broken the document into three images.

The annotations reveal a few fascinating things to me:

  • The strengths and ideal concepts that characterize our republic were hard fought and hard negotiated.
  • Because writing is thinking made visible, then I plan to scan every line of these images, which may reveal “what might have been.”
  • Writing students who insist that their first draft is “good enough” are not only lazy and deluded—they are far from Revolutionary.

To see the image on the Library of Congress page, go here.

Judge Learned Hand

Happy Independence Day. Few people may be reading blogs today, but for those who are, you may enjoy a speech delivered back in 1944, during an event billed as “I Am An American Day.”

The writer—and speaker? Judge Learned Hand. He, of course, was a trial judge and later a Circuit Judge, and “Hand has been quoted more often than any other lower-court judge by legal scholars and by the Supreme Court of the United States.” Here are his moving words:

We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion.

Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty – freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This then we sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few – as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty?

I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of those men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten – that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side-by-side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an American which has never been, and which may never be – nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it – yet in the spirit of America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America so prosperous, and safe, and contented, we shall have failed to grasp its meaning, and shall have been truant to its promise, except as we strive to make it a signal, a beacon, a standard to which the best hopes of mankind will ever turn; In confidence that you share that belief, I now ask you to raise you hand and repeat with me this pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands–One nation, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

It has become a welcome staple of many civic events on the Fourth of July to read the Declaration of Independence aloud. Events like that gather students, teachers, community leaders and others in a shared recitation of one of our nation’s essential documents.

This week, I came across one of the most poignant examples of this. In this video, watch as the document is read by military personnel stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. They include sailors, soldiers, a Marine, an airman, and a U.S. civilian contractor, all reading this year.

Happy Independence Day.

A gift from our Founders

As you wheel between the grill and some fireworks on Independence Day 2011, here are two brief items that may make your day of commemoration even a little better.

Both, by coincidence, are from the same site, housed in our 50th state. Civil Beat provides a variety of interesting content, and I hope you linger even after today.

The first essay explains the role lawyers played in the founding of our country. You may already be aware of all that, but it is a great refresher. And it’s only eight short paragraphs, so explore it while you wait for the burgers to be done.

The second piece published some reader responses to their question: “If the Declaration of Independence were written today, what about our society would future generations look back on and question?”

Don’t like the responses, all by ACLU interns? Then write your own; they’re seeking your response.

And while you’re there, you may want to test your “Freedom IQ” by clicking on a 20-question quiz. If that seems too much like work, save it until you’re back in the office tomorrow.

Happy Independence Day.