Yesterday, on July 5 th , a friend of mine on Facebook published a list of injustices that were committed against blacks, mainly pertaining to slavery and government violations of civil rights, for instance, The Fugitive Slave Act, the 3/5 Compromise, the Missouri Compromise, Jim Crow, Plessy v. Ferguson , Dred Scott , lynchings, and numerous other laws and actions.
She concluded with, “ July 4th is a symbol of celebrating independence during the American Revolutionary War. However, Black people did not have independence. We were not free. So there's a little history for you. Use it to educate your children about the truth of our history. I hope this post helps you understand why some people find the monuments aversive and why some people do not want to celebrate the 4th of July. It is very important that we have the complete picture and education is the key.”
She noted more than once, that on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed, but black people were not free.
Her statement was not accurate.
While the vast majority of the black population of the new nation did, indeed, live in bondage, thousands of free blacks lived in the new nation. Many owned property, voted, and fully participated in society and commerce. Some enlisted in the Continental Army to fight for the new nation.
However, even free blacks faced discrimination. They were not alone as did many other groups; Catholics, Jews, Irish, Chinese, Native Americans, and Italians, to name a few, and this new nation whose creed was “All men are created equal,” would need more than the next two centuries to figure out what that meant and to strive towards its achievement.
The 4th of July is not just the celebration of our nation’s founding, it’s the celebration of our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence .
The core of the document forms the basis on what those who claim we shouldn’t celebrate July 4 consciously or unconsciously are fighting for, the idea articulated by Thomas Jefferson, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
The grievance of any person, no matter who they are, that they are being oppressed is based on the fact we now take it for granted that we are all equal because we were created equal. The principle is so ingrained in our national DNA, we inherently believe it, even if we do not understand why or from where it originated.
However, Jefferson’s original draft did not stop there.
Today, when you read the “Declaration of Independence” the final version is missing a paragraph that was written by Thomas Jefferson but struck from the document by the delegates of the Southern colonies.
Jefferson wrote, “he [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”
Let us not for one second believe the progressive lie that this nation, from its inception, did not struggle with an institution it inherited from the Crown. It was not CAPITALISM that brought slavery to America, but MERCANTILISM, where a mother nation exploited its colonies for economic power. Both Adam Smith’s “ Wealth of Nations ,” which argued for an economy guided by the market and not government, and America’s founding, which had at its creed that a free people should be able to engage in commerce without the heavy hand of government, both occurred in 1776.
It took 90 years to throw off the remains of the mercantile system at the cost of over 600,000 dead in the American Civil War, including the first Republican President whose life ended with a bullet in his head.
Whatever you want to believe the start of the war was about, the end of the war was the end of slavery, and the beginning of another 100-year struggle for equality.
But not us forget for a second, that even in 1776, a 33 year old slave owner had to grapple with the fact that he, himself, was waging “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him...”
While Jefferson was never able to emancipate his slaves as he claimed to want to, he reflected both the ideals of the new nation, and its fears. In the end, his fears of bankruptcy and ruin overrode his own beliefs and principles that all were created equal.
However, throughout the next two centuries, there were plenty of people who risked, and often lost everything, including their lives, to end what they continued to see as injustice, usually for no other reason than because they believed in the ideals embodied in the document written by Jefferson and adopted on July 4. It would have been easier, and safer, to say, “it doesn’t affect me, concern me, and it’s not my business.” However, as the words of America the Beautiful point out, we had heroes who proved in liberating strife, that more than self, their country loved, and mercy more than life.
As Jefferson said, “The Tree of Liberty must constantly be refreshed with the blood of Patriots and Tyrants.”
This included tyrants found even in our own nation. Liberty has always had to struggle against a small, but determined minority who would claim freedom for themselves, but withhold it to others.
Those who will say July 4th is only about the list of injustices that were carried out against blacks, or anyone else, are missing the point of the day. July 4th is about having the courage to end once and for all injustice because July 4th is about ALL being equal. Maybe Americans were not yet ready to believe we were all equal on July 4, 1776, but on that day we, as a new nation, stated that we all are, and started working towards it.
We must still work towards it and teach the next generation what July 4 means, more than cookouts, fireworks, and parades, or risk losing it for every American who will follow.