Sunday, July 6

July, 1855

The Boss Rabbit and I spent part of our day on the Fourth at Missouri Town 1855 in Fleming Park. It's a cluster of buildings and volunteers brought together to help create a rough, living illustration of what life was life in the middle of the nineteenth century in Missouri.
My first known immigrant ancestors arrived in a similar place around 1843 in Johnson County, Missouri near where Warrensburg stands today. They came from Northern Ireland and toughed out a living as farmers. They worked the railroads and fought in the Civil War. They lived under bitterly harsh conditions in an unforgiving part of the country. Some died trying.

The United States in 1855, especially the western limits, wasn't a place for the weak of heart. It was a country on the verge of a deep split. Kansas, not yet a state, had just been put into the column of pro-slavery states. 

President Lincoln wrote to James Speed:"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal except Negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty--to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

Living here was harsh, but my family's grit made it possible for me to sit here today in what they would have seen as a level of unimaginable luxury and share these images and words.
I think they could have survived anywhere, but the promise of the United States was one of freedom and opportunity. There was no promise of comfort, success or safety, just the notion that their future was in their own hands and the freedom to make their own way. What better promise is there than that? I've tried to imagine what their lives were like in 1855, as they endured the stifling heat of summer and the numbing winters. I've tried to imagine how they spent their days and nights, what they thought about and how they lived. What would the Fourth of July mean to them? I'll wager that celebrations took a back seat to the task at hand. Work first, party later.

Ultimately, I'll never know what it was like - I was born at a more fortunate temporal crossroads in history. I have no romantic notions about the past, nor what life meant to those who lived there. I also don't have overly romantic notions about my country's past or the people who created it. They weren't gods, they were mortals with some pretty good ideas about how to get things done. Not perfect, by any means, but pretty good. Our job, as Americans, is to continue to improve on the original idea, to not allow stale dogma and the fear of new ideas to dictate this country's direction, and to not waste the legacy of the last fifteen generations on this continent.

I truly believe that if the men who founded this country could hear us today using phrases like, "That's not what the founding fathers intended." to rationalize any decision, no matter how important or how trivial, they'd think us all gone soft in the head. They gave us the foundation of a new idea and then added the tools to allow us to change it as we saw fit. They knew that time had changed their vision for this country and that time would continue to alter the country's collective vision.

Wait, where was I? Now I remember....

Happy Fourth of July!

Thus spake the rabbit.

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