Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4th And Pasquale Paoli

I am fond of July 4th, Independence Day, as it marks a national holiday, yes, but it also represents for me my own liberation and a new life in the New World. So I suppose I could post a picture of the Stars and Stripes and go back to the barbecue but that would be too easy, and let's face it a dreary abdication in the face of another daily opportunity to shake the tree of knowledge just a little bit.

We are told the founders of this nation were geniuses and the documents that emanated from them were masterpieces. No doubt that the incipient new country was lucky to have had such leaders, not least that they were well read. Some of them could read Italian and they were the ones who read a revolutionary document that came out of the small, suppressed island of Corsica. Most Americans know nothing of Corsica, least of all they they owe their founding documents to a revolutionary Corsican thinker and fighter.

The author of the 1755 document published in Corsica was Pasquale Paoli, a man who led the fight against the Republic of Genova, and when the Italians gave up Corsica to the French he fought the French too, to ensure his island would be free. Unfortunately Corsica was viewed as a critical strategic spot in the Mediterranean and the French wouldn't yield. After 15 years of independence the Corsican Republic lost the Battle of Ponte Nuovo and the experiment died. Pasquale Paoli Corsican Independence from Genoa

Get this, Paoli wrote a document that expounded the right of a nation to be happy, that its people deserved to be free and find their own destiny. When I read the original Italian manuscriot in Paoli's home in Corsica I was struck at the time that the document, imitated in so many details by the founders of the new America, read like a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence of world wide fame. I had never heard anyone make the connection between the Revolution of 1776 and the Corsican insurrection of twenty one years earlier.

Corsica is French and it seems nothing much will change that, since French mainlanders have moved onto the island and the native Corsicans find themselves and their language, a form of Italian, buried by France. Not unlike the Conch versus outsider issues in Key West. Paoli's belief in Corsica's essential Italian-ness has been lost to history which rewards the victors. Paoli was a visionary who was two centuries ahead of his time drafting a Corsican constitution gave women property rights and the vote. Paoli was recorded as being a supporter of gay marriage. He wrote that marriage should be open to anyone, small wonder there are rumors that the lifelong bachelor was gay.

I recently read a book that gave me fresh insights into the Revolution that created this country A Few Bloody Noses: The Realities and Mythologies of the American Revolution | and I enjoyed how much it made me think, how real it made that struggle, how it argued against the purity of myth and in favor of the messiness of human motives. Yet there was no mention of Pasquale Paoli or his influence on the struggle for freedom in America.

To Sir Isaac Newton they attribute this phrase: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Pasquale Paoli was one such unattributed giant.

Happy Independence Day.

For a view of Corsica and their peculiar folk chant: