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Independence Day Vilifications
When in the course of human events…
The Declaration of Independence was an argument, not a legal document. It was a petition, but it had an “or else” tone that said that no matter what Britain or the king did, the colonies would go their own way. “Is and ought to be dissolved” is the key phrase.
It had become necessary…
In 1852, a former slave, Fredrick Douglass, gave a stirring and ironic address at a meeting organized by the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York. Delivered on 5 July, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July” was stirring oratory and high irony. While it seemed celebratory, it really wasn’t because he was addressing a nearly all-white audience.
This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.
Fredrick Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July”
The anti-slave ladies were well-meaning but they were not about to go around advocating social or legal equality for persons of color, and Douglass knew it. While the rest of his address celebrated the Founding Fathers and the independence they fought for, he peppered it with references to the slave world that he once inhabited and, to an extent, still lived in because as a black man he had very few rights, like voting.
After 1865, persons were no longer enslaved in America. That is a fact. But complete civil equality would take a great deal of time in America because it never did race well. No non-white persons enjoyed complete assurance of citizenship rights in much of the United States until well into the 20th Century. And social equality…that’s debatable for many people in a lot of situations to this day, including white people.
In recent years, that Declaration has been called an amplification of Douglass’ irony, and even meaningless to persons of color in America. Regrettably, Jefferson’s anti-slavery passage in the Declaration:
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s 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, by murdering the people for 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 [sic]
Thomas Jefferson, Draft of the Declaration of Independence, 1776
Despite the assertions of the 1619 Project, this doesn’t sound like the Founders “knew” that Britain was heading for abolition, because it simply wasn’t. Removing this passage was necessary for ratification of the Declaration, but Jefferson argued against its removal. But like many historical facts, some people choose to forget both this passage and Jefferson’s objections to its removal…or just ignore those inconvenient facts. These arguments change the tone of some Fourth of July celebrations to nothing more than continuing polemic arguments, a continuation of the bombardment of rhetoric that…never mind.
Today is Independence Day…
Enjoy the day off, the fireworks, the parades, and everything that comes with it. Wave to the Mother Country and the Royals, but we are free of them.
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On 4 July:
1776: The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that it had ratified two days before. Written at a petition to George III, the Declaration was a shopping list of grievances that the American colonies wanted addressed. George never responded directly.
1826, 1831: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Monroe died, in that order. Jefferson passed in Monticello, Virginia; Adams in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1826, and Monroe in New York, New York in 1831. That these three co-founders of America passed on this day is beyond ironic.
And today is NATIONAL BARBECUED SPARERIBS DAY for obvious reasons.