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America's independent spirit

Mark Mardell | 20:45 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010

A belated happy Independence Day to you all, and, yes, as a Brit, I am happy you got out from under our heel. I began my 4 July watching a sweetly-small neighbourhood display: a big fire engine, an old Chevy and about 30 kids on bikes with stars and stripes flying. I've munched on several lots of hot dogs and finished up watching the Washington fireworks with friends from the BBC, American and British. As we watched the staggering display from a balcony, on the street below an individual - displaying true independence of spirit - let off his own Roman candles and crackers beneath a tree on the pavement. It was a lot less impressive than the federal government's show but lasted longer.

At the party a couple of American colleagues were talking about what a wonderful man Thomas Jefferson was and how they would have loved to have met him. This struck a chord today when I was flicking through a slim book called 2014 - How to survive the next world crisis, by Professor Nicholas Boyle.

My eyes lit on a passage claiming that America's conception of itself can be understood in the desire to disguise what he calls "the darkness beneath Jefferson's cloak". I haven't yet read the whole thing but, as far as I can see, he argues that the defining event in US history was not the American War of Independence but the Civil War and that the darkness was that the American state (like all others) was based on force, not consent.

He says Jefferson is the American saint and "if a saint tells you there is no elephant in the drawing room" you can, like the northern states, ignore the elephant, or, like the southern ones, "call the elephant something else". He goes that this is why southerners hold a belief that "America was made by God, not by the Yankee state, however heretical and implausible that belief may be". If it stays a quiet news day, I may find time to do more than skim-read the book, but it promises to be provocative stuff.


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