Eric Foner: Delivers 4th of July oration

Historians in the News

COLEBROOK, CT Fourth of July orations have long been a chance to measure the nation against its ideals, historian Eric Foner told residents gathered for the annual Independence Day celebration Wednesday.

Two centuries ago, Foner said, speakers questioned how a nation professing to be a beacon of freedom could practice slavery.

Then Foner, the Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, offered a modern-day version of that challenge.

In the Declaration of Independence, Foner said, Thomas Jefferson railed against King George III for abuses in the holding of trials and for allowing wars to target civilians. Then Foner noted current U.S. policies that allow people designated as enemy combatants to be imprisoned without a trial or the rights of the judicial system, and the president picking which international treaties to follow or ignore.

``What would Thomas Jefferson think?'' he asked.

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