Saturday, July 4, 2015

'All men are created equal?'

A real 'Founding Father'
As another Independence Day explodes across the country, it's worth noting that the very foundation of this country, the Declaration of Independence, was a contradiction of the principles it sets forth.

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, wrote these words: "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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Of course, Jefferson didn't really believe that "all men are created equal."  Afterall, he not only owned slaves, he fathered children from those slaves. And, Jefferson's document surely did not extend to women.

There is another section of the Declaration that was removed from the final draft.

It's even more damning of Jefferson, the smartest of the Founding Fathers.

Here is Jefferson's critique of King George III of England: 

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation hither … And he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he had deprived them, by 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."

Jefferson denounced the king for allowing the slave trade to flourish, but then also chastised the king for being anti-slavery after the colonies had become addicted to free labor.

Of course another section remained in the Declaration, which helps explain the eventual genocide of Native Americans:

"He (King George) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

Yes, without the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, we wouldn't be the nation we are today. 

We also wouldn't have massive fireworks displays. 

Or a paid holiday.

Or, in Bend, the Pet Parade.

Essential as those traditions are, this country has yet to overcome its racist past, not to mention its racist present. Some still proudly wave the Confederate battle flag and use it to defend mass murder in a black church.

Yes, the "Founding Fathers" were critical to our formation of a country, but their importance pales in comparison with the American Union leadership during the Civil War, brought about, in part, by the writings and practices of our Founding Fathers.

The apologists of the slave-owning Founding Fathers, including George Washington, always claim that these men merely reflected their times. We can't hold them to the standards of today.

Oh really.

Even though our Founding Fathers were influenced by the Enlightenment, they didn't let the Age of Reason interfere with their acceptance of slavery. Yes, Jefferson did sign the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, but it was poorly enforced and the slave trade endured for decades.

In contrast to Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, the liberator of five countries in South America, "was staunchly anti-slavery, despite coming from an area of Spanish America that relied heavily on slave labor."

Of course, Bolivar's first success was in 1810, a whole year after Jefferson left the presidency of the United States. Bolivar banned slavery in the countries he helped liberate from Spain. Unfortunately, he was the first of many leaders in Central and South America who believed in despotism.

In terms of slavery, though, Bolivar was far more enlightened than Jefferson or any Founding Father in America.

Obviously, the legacy of slavery plagues the U.S. today, even as we are led by our first African-American president.

Along with the Declaration of Independence, this day should also be remembered for the words of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Here is a link to the Douglass speech titled: "The Meaning of July Fourth For the Negro."

Here is link to Lincoln's Gettysburg address and also the Emancipation Proclamation, without which we would not be commemorating July 4.

The Declaration of Independence, at best, is a call to freedom for white men. At worst, it is a hypocritical document. Sadly, some of that hypocrisy still persists today, 239 years after that bold declaration.

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