This is the day Thomas Jefferson declared that all propertied white men are created equal. The rest of you guys, get over there. And you too, wives, sisters and daughters. You may be equal but not to us plantation owners who are more than equal. Nor are these savages who were so hospitable we never left. Nor are those dark-skinned people we buy and sell who have built this country. They have no inalienable rights but they shall count as 3/5 in the census. All these conditions were enshrined in the Constitution. There was cotton to be picked, stolen land to be tilled, bales to be lift and barges to tote.
Where do I sign, said our Founders. And these were the enlightened. But not enlightened enough to imagine that our creator endowed everyone with the right to life, liberty and to the pursuit of happiness. The declaration begins with the phrase, When in the course of human events... Are those who are shackled, dispossessed or indentured not human?
In fairness it needs to be said that our floundering founders were bold and brave men. By signing their names to this document they were committing sedition with a bounty on their heads and subject to hanging.
From 1800 to mid-century the slave population quadrupled from one to four million. The face on our twenty dollar bill was a particular abomination. He hungered for their land and was particularly angered because the Choctow nation of five tribes were reported to be harboring runaway slaves, all 3/5ths of them. He then relocated 46,000 Native Americans about twelve hundred miles away, indifferent to their Trail of Tears or the thousands who died along the way. Jackson was no visionary. He dumped them on oil-rich land which then meant further displacement generations later.
Is it fair to judge our Founders for their role in human bondage? I believe it is. The truth about inhumanity is self-evident. In the case of Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette urged him to liberate his slaves and the Polish military commander and engineer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, offered to compensate our esteemed author /architect / inventor / and President for his losses. But the man from Monticello declined, even upon his death bed. Apparently, he had grown accustomed to his privileged position and Black lives did not matter. After all, manumission might have set a bad precedent.
In fact, upon Kosciuszko’s death, in 1819, he bequeathed $20,000 to Jefferson but T.J. took the money and passed on his enslaved men and women to his nephew. So much for declarations of independence.
In Lincoln’s prose-poem we call The Gettysburg Address he got his first sentence wrong. Maybe on purpose. Four score and seven years ago in 1863 our fathers did not conceive of a new nation. We were not a nation for another eleven years when the Constitution was ratified. In 1776 we were, at best, a confederation of states. The sovereign states, to this day, are loathe to relinquish many of their Antebellum ways.
This is no year for fireworks. The country is already combusting. Let this Fourth of July be the time to revisit and redress the omissions and injustices baked into our Constitutional yeast.
Our cherished document is yet to be realized. The legacy of Independence Day is still aspirational. The lofty words need to be brought down to ground-level. Heirs of Thomas Jefferson’s 230 slaves have been emancipated on paper but not as yet freed from economic suppression, disenfranchisement, daily indignities nor from the festering worm of racism in the minds of the dominant class.