Oh Say Can You See Are You Ready for Some Hard Truths About the Birth of Our Nation? Brace Yourself
Political activist and writer, Frank Joyce, has published an insightful writing at Alternet that pokes holes in our standard and stereotypical way of perceiving and celebrating our day of independence.
Perhaps the best script for how we in our stereotype understand our national “Day” is the one most of us memorized in grade school …
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.
However, begins Joyce, there was much more to the Declaration than just those words.
Far more attention was dedicated to a long list of grievances that the founding fathers had with the King. One of them was that the British were in cahoots with, “the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.” Another complaint which didn’t make it into the Declaration but was included in a precursor document, the Virginia Constitution, complained that the British were “prompting our Negroes to rise in arms against us…”
Our colonial and rebellious forefathers were more about self-interest – as they should have been and we would have wanted them to be – than establishing the noblest experiment in democracy the globe had ever seen.
Joyce includes a Thomas Jefferson quote that I do not recall ever having encountered in school or reading (much of my reading is rapid and rarely involved taking notes and filing away special discoveries). Jefferson does not seem to have been letting slip a communally-kept forefather secret as much as expressing a sentiment quite common at the time.
Thomas Jefferson himself said as much in his account of the Declaration of Independence, “The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.”
We sound noble now with our speeches, songs and fireworks because our focus is a sense of national unity on why we are special now when back then we were only working on establishing a system and memory of budding special-ness.
And this … about which we ought not feel indignant to learn … but mature to address and recognize rather than continue a pattern of using soft white-wash to cover an image painted in grit and grime.
As a relevant side note, the National Anthem has its own dirty little secret. Composed during the fight with the British known as The War of 1812, its third stanza is virtually never sung today. As Ned and Constance Sublette explain inThe American Slave Coast—A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, there is a reason for that. The last part of that stanza is:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Francis Scott Key, author of the “Star Spangled Banner” lyrics, was himself a slave owner and hard core white supremacist.
Not to shame ourselves, but then, not to congratulate ourselves on an overarching nobility that has no basis in fact and denies the honesty and authenticity of original priorities that mostly drove us toward what we are today.