Words I Hold Dear

During my last trip to NYC I visited the Morgan Library for the first time. As luck would have it, they were featuring an exhibit on Abraham Lincoln, complete with the original Emancipation Proclamation. I was thrilled to be able to see such a historical specimen.

It got me thinking about which documents really resonate with me, which words are truly inspired, reflecting the spirit of an entire nation. Here’re my top three documents I hold dear:

#1 – The Emancipation Proclamation

CivilWar.PhotosOn January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, issuing an executive order that declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

This expansive wording, however, was slightly misleading since it didn’t end slavery in the nation—only ending slavery in the states that had seceded from the Union. The loyal border states and parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control were exempt. Also the freedom it promised would, of course, only come to fruition if the Union Army won the war.

That said, the Emancipation Proclamation did speak directly to millions of Americans about the moral obligation to end slavery and heightened the stakes for the North to win the war. The Proclamation also announced the ability of black men to fight for the Union military. And at the war’s end almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.

#2 – The Magna Carta

I happened upon the Magna Carta while visiting the Salisbury Cathedral in England. The Cathedral, dating from the 13th century, was spared bombing during WWII only because its spire (Britain’s tallest landmark at the time) was used by the Nazi’s as a navigation tool.

There are actually four original Magna Carta copies in existence. This version was written in Latin on vellum about 1215. Its name translated means The Great Charter of the Liberties” and was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It became law in 1297.

The document outlines for the first time the relationship between the King and his subjects and their rights. For instance the document specifies for the first time protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments. These rights, however, were extended to Barons, not the general population.

The Magna Carta is seen as the basis of most democracies in the world and the first document to offer state protection of personal liberties. It is seen as “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” and thought to have inspired both the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

#3 – The Apology

AustralianDuoOn February 12, 2008, Australia’s Parliament issued an apology to the nation’s Stolen Generations. “Stolen Generations” is the term used to describe the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children who were forcibly removed from their families by the Australian government between 1869 and 1969.

During this time, an estimated 10-30% of all Aboriginal children, possibility as many as 100,000, were taken from their parents and placed in foster homes, missions, or state institutions. The government admits that every Aboriginal family was affected by this policy.

Part of The Apology reads:

“We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians…”

Righting Injustices

As the world seems to be spiraling out of control, especially in the Middle East, it’s heartening to know that we as citizens can change the course of history. We can demand equality. We can demand protection from a despotic government. We can demand an apology to injustices committed in the past.

We have both an individual and a collective voice. And while it is not our duty to do so, it is a precious right that we can use our voice to help safeguard and protect those who are suffering grave inequalities.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, March 28th, 2015 and is filed under Social Issues.

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