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Archive for the ‘Revolución Americana’ Category

10 Myths for the Fourth of July

Ray Raphael

Journal of American Revolution   July 1, 2014

 

fourth

Surrender of Burgoyne by John Trumbull. Source: U.S. Architect of the Capitol

1. On July 4, 1776, the United States declared itself an independent nation.

This is almost true, but the timing is a tad off. According to the historical record, we should be celebrating Independence Day on July 2, the day Congress finally approved the motion made by Richard Henry Lee on June 7: “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”[i]

The following day, July 3, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.[ii]Adams certainly got the spirit right, even if the date he proffered turned out to be wrong. How was he to know that even the most patriotic Americans would fail to recognize the true anniversary of independence? On July 4, the second day after it declared the United States to be an independent nation, Congress approved a document that explained its reasons. As so often happens in history, representation of the event would have more staying power than the event itself.

2. Congress initiated the move toward independence.

Historian Pauline Maier has uncovered 90 sets of instructions by state and local bodies, each telling its representatives in higher bodies (ultimately, the Continental Congress) to declare independence. Several of these documents, written in the three months preceding Congress’s vote for independence, listed the same complaints and expressed the same principles that the Congressional Declaration of Independence eventually did.[iii]

Earlier yet, on October 4, 1774, the town of Worcester instructed its delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress “to exert yourself in devising ways and means to raise from the dissolution of the old constitution, as from the ashes of the Phenix, a new form, wherein all officers shall be dependent on the suffrages of the people, whatever unfavorable constructions our enemies may put upon such procedure.”[iv] This was indeed a declaration for independence. The new government would be formed without seeking the consent of existing British authorities, and since it would be based exclusively on the “suffrages of the people,” there could be no place for monarchical prerogatives, as there had been under British rule.

In 1774 the Continental Congress was not yet ready for such rash actions. Feverishly, the Massachusetts delegates in Philadelphia cautioned their constituents back home. “Absolute Independency … Startle[s] People here,” John Adams wrote to a friend. His colleagues in the Continental Congress, he said, were horrified by “the Proposal of Setting up a new Form of Government of our own.”[v] Samuel Adams, also a delegate to the Continental Congress, likewise warned the people of Massachusetts not to “set up another form of government” for fear of jeopardizing support from other colonies.[vi] Those congressional leaders, who allegedly drove the agenda, said that “Independency” should not come too soon. In fact, it would be 21 months before Congress caught up with the people of Worcester.

3. The Signing.

Those fifty-six valiant patriots whom future generations would celebrate as “The Signers” did not step forth, with great solemnity, and affix their signatures to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. In fact, fourteen of these celebrated heroes were not even present that day, including eight who were not yet members of Congress.[vii]

The alleged signing of the Declaration of Independence is a conscious fabrication of the Continental Congress. On July 4, twelve states (not thirteen) approved a declaration that explained Congress’s vote for independence two days earlier. That document was signed by only two men, President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson, as was the custom for congressional resolutions. Two weeks later, on July 19, New York cast the thirteenth vote for independence and Congress ordered that a fancy, “engrossed” copy be “signed by every member.”[viii] On August 2, Timothy Matlack presented this engrossed copy to Congress. Members who happened to be present that day signed it, even if they had not been party to the original act. Other delegates added their signatures as they arrived for work on succeeding days, and one, Thomas McKean of Delaware, did not do so until the following year.[ix]

In the spring of 1777, the committee that printed the official Congressional Journal inserted the later copy under its entry for July 4. The deceit is easy to detect. The engrossed copy – the nicely penned version we see and celebrate so often – is titled, “Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States,” even though the Congressional Journal reveals that only twelve states voted for independence on July 2 and approved the Declaration of July 4. Our nation, as one of its first official acts, pulled off a photo op, 18th Century style. To this day, even most textbooks mistake the embellished Declaration, signatures and all, for the real deal.[x]

4. “Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor.”

This celebrated pledge of personal responsibility made for a stirring conclusion to the congressional Declaration of Independence, but it was not entirely original. In at least twenty of the ninety earlier declarations, delegates signed off by vowing to support independence with their “lives and fortunes.” Some of these added creative touches to the standard oath. Bostonians pledged “their lives and the remnants of their fortunes,” while patriots from Malden, Massachusetts, concluded: “Your constituents will support and defend the measure to the last drop of their blood, and the last farthing of their treasure.”[xi] True, delegates to the Continental Congress, gentlemen all, added some class with “our sacred honor,” but in the final analysis, loss of lives and fortunes would have been bad enough.

5. Thomas Jefferson found the inspiration for the Declaration of Independence “from deep inside himself.”[xii]

Not according to Jefferson. The “object of the Declaration of Independence,” he wrote, was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind.”[xiii]

Jefferson’s draft of the congressional Declaration of Independence was indeed a superb synthesis of this “American mind.” Had it been merely a reflection of one man’s unique genius, its historical import would have been far less. It expresses the mood and will of a nation, so yes, read it and celebrate it – but don’t forget to place it in its historical context.

6. John Locke’s Social Contract.

The preamble to the congressional Declaration of Independence, we learn in school, was Jefferson’s clever adaptation of the “social contract” theory of government, commonly associated with the British philosopher John Locke. That it was, but the social contract theory was commonplace in Revolutionary Era rhetoric, and Jefferson was swimming in the mainstream, not setting the pace. Several of the local declarations offered succinct expressions of the social contract theory.

Consider the June 17 declaration from Frederick County, Maryland: “Resolved, unanimously, That all just and legal Government was instituted for the ease and convenience of the People, and that the People have the indubitable right to reform or abolish a Government which may appear to them insufficient for the exigency of their affairs.”[xiv]

Or George Mason’s draft to the Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which appeared in the Philadelphia papers at the very moment Jefferson started penning his draft: “That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from the people…. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community. … and that, whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.”[xv] Mason’s version is clumsy, unlike Jefferson’s in the preamble to the congressional declaration, but the words and concepts are all there. The social contract was a central component of British-American political heritage, a theory that had legitimated the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 and was ushered forth again for this one. Social Contract 101 was core curriculum for American patriots.

7. Jefferson’s ideal of equality.

Writing the Declaration of Independence. Source: Library of Congress

What about that glorious opening to Jefferson’s preamble: “that all men are created equal”? Thomas Jefferson, we are told so often,inserted the concept “equality” with an eye to the future. While other Americans were talking about independence, Jefferson took things to the next level. He was ahead of his time. Even though one-sixth of the residents of the emerging United States were held in bondage, Jefferson gave the idea of equality prime billing as a promise, to be realized when the time was ripe.

But the ideal of “equality,” like the rest of the preamble, was not a Jefferson original.

“That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights… among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursueing and obtaining Happiness and Safety,” George Mason wrote and Thomas Jefferson read.[xvi] Days or weeks later, Jefferson offered his own rendition, simplifying the prose: “[T]hat 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.”[xvii]

While Jefferson’s variant sounds straightforward, it actually created great confusion. What does “created equal” really mean? Years later, Stephen Douglas, when debating Abraham Lincoln, protested that Negroes were not the “equal” of whites, leading Lincoln to retreat by admitting they were “not my equal in many respects ­– certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment.”[xviii] Had Jefferson stayed with Mason’s phraseology, Lincoln could have cited the Declaration of Independence with greater authority and less apology. “Born equally free and independent” establishes clearly the nature of equality among men: it lies in their rights, not in their attributes, abilities, or achievements.

8. In the aftermath of July 4, states started writing new constitutions and forming new governments.

The sequence here is backward. On May 10, 1776, the Continental Congress unanimously passed a historic resolution: Assemblies or Conventions within each colony should create new governments “where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs” currently existed. Since the colonial governments under British authority were essentially defunct by this time, Congress was giving colonies free reign to start anew.[xix]

Five days later, in Williamsburg, the Virginia Convention resolved to write a constitution for a new government, without even a nod to British authority. Thomas Jefferson, attending Congress in Philadelphia at the time, wished he were back home to help. “It is a work of the most interesting nature and such as every individual would wish to have his voice in,” he wrote. Virginia should recall its delegates to the Continental Congress, he suggested, so they could take part. This was self-serving, of course. He really did want to help write that constitution.[xx]

Virginians fully understood that this was a momentous occasion, and they celebrated in grand style. A crowd gathered outside the Capitol building in anticipation of the final vote, and when it came, some plucky fellows climbed the cupola to lower the British flag, then raised in its stead the Grand Union banner used by the Continental Army. Soldiers paraded and fired cannons, and festivities continued the following day: inebriation, raucous toasts, and fireworks – a regular Fourth of July in Virginia, seven weeks before the Fourth of July.[xxi]

9. The stirring words of the Declaration of Independence helped shape the fledgling nation.

In the first days of independence, Americans staged public readings of Congress’s Declaration to mark such a momentous occasion. But was it the explanation of independence or the mere fact of it they were celebrating? Not content with Congress’s verbal renderings, they freely offered their own. Toasts upon toasts were raised: “Perpetual itching without benefit of scratching, to the enemies of America” and “May the freedom and independency of America endure, till the sun grows dim with age, and this earth returns to chaos.”[xxii]

Through the rest of the war, even at Fourth of July celebrations, the Declaration itself was rarely quoted. On the first anniversary of independence in 1777, when William Gordon delivered the oration for the festivities in Boston, he used as his text the Old Testament. When David Ramsay delivered the oration in Charleston on the second anniversary, he used a phrase more common to the times: “life, liberty, and property,” not “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as appeared in the Declaration of Independence.[xxiii]

In fact, during the Revolutionary Era, George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was copied or imitated far more often than the Declaration of Independence. None of the seven other states that drafted their own declarations of rights borrowed phrasing from the congressional Declaration, but Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (in addition to Vermont, which was not yet a state) lifted exact portions of Mason’s text, including “all men are born equally free and independent.”[xxiv]

Surprisingly, the Declaration of Independence was not often cited during the drafting of the United States Constitution in 1787 or in the subsequent debates over ratification. Notes from the Constitutional Convention make only two references to the Declaration, while the 85 essays in The Federalist contain but one.[xxv] Not until the early Nineteenth Century was the Declaration of Independence enshrined as scripture. Its ascendancy was triggered, initially, by political motivations. One of the two emerging political parties, the Republicans, seized the opportunity to promote its standard bearer, Thomas Jefferson, as the author of the nation’s founding document. That was the launch, and Congress’s Declaration of Independence has thrived ever since. Other documents were forgotten. Other patriots, authors of those documents, were forgotten. One document, and one man, would henceforth stand for the whole.

10. The Fourth of July has always brought Americans together.

Although this has often been true, there have been notable exceptions.

On July 4, 1788, while proponents of the new Constitution celebrated its recent ratification, opponents of the new rules staged separate demonstrations, toasting “the old Confederation” instead of the Constitution.[xxvi] Again in the late 1790s, the two emerging political parties, Federalists and Republicans, staged competing Fourth of July celebrations in the same cities.[xxvii] And in 1852, Frederick Douglass issued a direct challenge to the very meaning of independence. “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” he said. “You may rejoice, I must mourn.”[xxviii]

Tussling over the soul of the nation is not new, and the Fourth of July, while inspiring picnics and fireworks for the most part, still offers an occasion for political preaching.

Conclusion: Why does any of this matter?

Iconic events, like iconic heroes, can mask what should not be masked. The United States was born not in a moment but in an era. The process of independence took years, not minutes, and the actors were many, not few. It is this process and these patriots ­– all of them – that we should celebrate. I have no problem with celebrating independence on the Fourth of July or two days earlier or any other day, but let’s honor the folks who made it happen by telling their full story.

 


[i] Journals of the Continental Congress [JCC], Library of Congress, American Memory, 5:425, 507. Internet site: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwjclink.html

[ii] Charles Francis Adams, ed., Familiar Letters of John Adams and his Wife Abigail Adams, during the Revolution (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1876), 193.

[iii] Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Vintage, 1998), 47-96, 217-34.

[iv] Franklin P. Rice, ed., Worcester Town Records (1784-1800) (Collections of Worcester Society of Antiquity, volume 8), 244. A scan of the document, with context, can be viewed on the documents page of my website: http://www.rayraphael.com/documents/decloration_independence.htm

[v] John Adams to Joseph Palmer, September 17, 1774, and John Adams to William Tudor, October 7, 1774, Robert J. Taylor, ed., Papers of John Adams, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977-), 2:173 and 2:187-88.

[vi] Samuel Adams to Joseph Warren, September 25, 1774, Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 3:159.

[vii] Eight of these—Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire, William Williams of Connecticut, Charles Carroll of Maryland, and Benjamin Rush, George Ross, James Smith, George Clymer, and George Taylor of Pennsylvania—had not yet become delegates. Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut had taken leave of Congress to assume command of his state’s militia, while Lewis Morris and Philip Livingston went home when the British threatened to invade New York. William Hooper of North Carolina, Samuel Chase of Maryland, and George Wythe of Virginia were helping their states constitute new governments. (John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999], 4:468; 11:146; 13:772; 15:903–04; 18:911–12; 19:73; 21:609; 23:514, 721; 24:93; Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography [New York: Scribner’s, 1943], 4:235; 17:284; 18:325. Even today, all these names appear as signers of the Declaration of Independence in the July 4, 1776, entry of the Library of Congress’s Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, 5:515.

[viii] JCC 5:590-91.

[ix] JCC 5:626. At least seven signers, and possibly several others, were not present on August 2: Matthew Thornton, Thomas McKean, Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Richard Henry Lee, and George Wythe. (John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence: Its History [New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1906], 210–219.)

[x] Charles Warren, “Fourth of July Myths,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 2 (1945): 246. Here are the original journal entries, not included in the first printed version: “July 19. 1776. Resolved That the Declaration passed on the fourth be fairly engrossed on parchment with the title and stile of ‘The Unanimous Declaration of the 13 United States of America’ and that the same when engrossed be signed by every member of Congress.—Aug. 2. 1776. The declaration of Independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members.” (Hazelton, Declaration of Independence, 204.) The original manuscript of the minutes, in the journals of the Continental Congress, was first consulted by Mellen Chamberlain in 1884. (Warren, “Fourth of July Myths,” 245.) The printed version on the Journals of the Continental Congress that appears on the Library of Congress website, edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford in 1906, reflects the original manuscript for July 19 and August 2, but the July 4 entry is still doctored by inserting the engrossed, signed copy, the “official” one the nation has celebrated since 1777.

[xi] Peter Force. ed., American Archives, Fourth Series: A Documentary History of the English Colonies in North America from the King’s Message to Parliament of Marcy 7/74, to the Declaration of Independence by the United States (New York: Johnson Reprint Company, 1972; first published 1833-1846), 6:557, 603. Internet access:

http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.16398

and

http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.16493

[xii] Joseph Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 59.

[xiii] Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899), 10:343. See also Jefferson to James Madison, August 30, 1823, ibid., 10:268. Even while supporting the promotion of relics he had used to draft the Declaration, Jefferson again insisted that his words were to be seen as no more than “the genuine effusion of the soul of our country.” (Jefferson to Dr. James Mease, September 26, 1825, ibid.,10:346.)

[xiv] Force. ed., American Archives 6:933. Internet: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.17205

[xv] Pennsylvania Gazette, June 12, 1776.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Jefferson’s draft is reprinted in Maier, American Scripture, 236–241.

[xviii] Lincoln-Douglas debate, Ottawa, IL, August 21, 1858, in Abraham Lincoln, Political Writings and Speeches, Terence Ball, ed. (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), xxvii.

[xix] JCC, May 10, 1776, 4:342.

[xx] Jefferson to Thomas Nelson, May 16, 1776, in Lyman H. Butterfield and Mina R. Bryan, eds., Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 1:292.

[xxi] John E. Selby, The Revolution in Virginia, 1775-1783 (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988), 97.

[xxii] Massachusetts Spy, July 14, 1776. Reprinted in William Lincoln, History of Worcester, Massachusetts, from its Earliest Settlement to September, 1836 (Worcester: Charles Hersey, 1862), 103.

[xxiii] Philip F. Detweiler, “The Changing Reputation of the Declaration of Independence: The First Fifty Years,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 19 (1962): 559-61.

[xxiv] Maier, American Scripture, 165–167; Detweiler, “Changing Reputation of the Declaration of Independence,” 561.

[xxv] Detweiler, “Changing Reputation,” 562.

[xxvi] David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 100-101.

[xxvii] Len Travers, Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Da and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), 11.

[xxviii] Frederick Douglass, Oration at Rochester, NY, July 5,1852, Frederick Douglas, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York: Arno Press, 1968), 236.

 

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“Counter-Revolution of 1776”: Was U.S. Independence War a Conservative Revolt in Favor of Slavery?

Democracy Now    June 27, 2014

As the United States prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we look at why July 4 is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it may be a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” extend to African Americans. The colonists who declared their freedom from England did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery. We speak with historian Gerald Horne, who argues the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a conservative effort by American colonists to protect their system of slavery. He is the author of two new books: “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America” and “Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow.” Horne is professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago with our next guest. Juan González is in New York.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, next weekend, the United States celebrates the Fourth of July, the day the American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776. While many Americans will hang flags, participate in parades and watch fireworks, Independence Day is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it is yet another bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and full-out genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness extend to African Americans. As our next guest notes, the white colonists who declared their freedom from the crown did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gerald Horne argues that the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a counterrevolution, in part, not a progressive step forward for humanity, but a conservative effort by American colonialists to protect their system of slavery.

9781479893409_FullFor more, Professor Horne joins us here in our Chicago studio. He’s the author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America and another new book, just out, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. Professor Horne teaches history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, as we move into this Independence Day week, what should we understand about the founding of the United States?

GERALD HORNE: We should understand that July 4th, 1776, in many ways, represents a counterrevolution. That is to say that what helped to prompt July 4th, 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition. This perception was prompted by Somerset’s case, a case decided in London in June 1772 which seemed to suggest that abolition, which not only was going to be ratified in London itself, was going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the mainland, thereby jeopardizing numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade. That’s the short answer.

The longer answer would involve going back to another revolution—that is to say, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, which, among other things, involved a step back from the monarch—for the monarch, the king, and a step forward for the rising merchant class. This led to a deregulation of the African slave trade. That is to say, the Royal African Company theretofore had been in control of the slave trade, but with the rising power of the merchant class, this slave trade was deregulated, leading to what I call free trade in Africans. That is to say, merchants then descended upon the African continent manacling and handcuffing every African in sight, with the energy of demented and crazed bees, dragging them across the Atlantic, particularly to the Caribbean and to the North American mainland. This was prompted by the fact that the profits for the slave trade were tremendous, sometimes up to 1,600 or 1,700 percent. And as you know, there are those even today who will sell their firstborn for such a profit. This, on the one hand, helped to boost the productive forces both in the Caribbean and on the mainland, but it led to numerous slave revolts, not least in the Caribbean, but also on the mainland, which helped to give the mainlanders second thoughts about London’s tentative steps towards abolition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gerald Horne, one of the things that struck me in your book is not only your main thesis, that this was in large part a counterrevolution, our—the United States’ war of independence, but you also link very closely the—what was going on in the Caribbean colonies of England, as well as in the United States, not only in terms of among the slaves in both areas, but also among the white population. And, in fact, you indicate that quite a few of those who ended up here in the United States fostering the American Revolution had actually been refugees from the battles between whites and slaves in the Caribbean. Could you expound on that?

GERALD HORNE: It’s well known that up until the middle part of the 18th century, London felt that the Caribbean colonies—Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, in particular—were in some ways more valuable than the mainland colonies. The problem was that in the Caribbean colonies the Africans outnumbered the European settlers, sometimes at a rate of 20 to one, which facilitated slave revolts. There were major slave revolts in Antigua, for example, in 1709 and 1736. The Maroons—that is to say, the Africans who had escaped London’s jurisdiction in Jamaica—had challenged the crown quite sternly. This led, as your question suggests, to many European settlers in the Caribbean making the great trek to the mainland, being chased out of the Caribbean by enraged Africans. For example, I did research for this book in Newport, Rhode Island, and the main library there, to this very day, is named after Abraham Redwood, who fled Antigua after the 1736 slave revolt because many of his, quote, “Africans,” unquote, were involved in the slave revolt. And he fled in fear and established the main library in Newport, to this very day, and helped to basically establish that city on the Atlantic coast. So, there is a close connection between what was transpiring in the Caribbean and what was taking place on the mainland. And historians need to recognize that even though these colonies were not necessarily a unitary project, there were close and intimate connections between and amongst them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why this great disparity between how people in the United States talk about the creation myth of the United States, if you will—I’m not talking about indigenous people, Native American people—and this story that you have researched?

GERALD HORNE: Well, it is fair to say that the United States did provide a sanctuary for Europeans. Indeed, I think part of the, quote, “genius,” unquote, of the U.S. project, if there was such a genius, was the fact that the founders in the United States basically called a formal truce, a formal ceasefire, with regard to the religious warfare that had been bedeviling Europe for many decades and centuries—that is to say, Protestant London, so-called, versus Catholic Madrid and Catholic France. What the settlers on the North American mainland did was call a formal truce with regard to religious conflict, but then they opened a new front with regard to race—that is to say, Europeans versus non-Europeans.

This, at once, broadened the base for the settler project. That is to say, they could draw upon those defined as white who had roots from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains, and indeed even to the Arab world, if you look at people like Ralph Nader and Marlo Thomas, for example, whose roots are in Lebanon but are considered to be, quote, “white,” unquote. This obviously expanded the population base for the settler project. And because many rights were then accorded to these newly minted whites, it obviously helped to ensure that many of them would be beholden to the country that then emerged, the United States of America, whereas those of us who were not defined as white got the short end of the stick, if you like.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, as a result of that, during the American Revolution, what was the perception or the attitude of the African slaves in the U.S. to that conflict? You also—you talk about, during the colonial times, many slaves preferred to flee to the Spanish colonies or the French colonies, rather than to stay in the American colonies of England.

GERALD HORNE: You are correct. The fact of the matter is, is that Spain had been arming Africans since the 1500s. And indeed, because Spain was arming Africans and then unleashing them on mainland colonies, particularly South Carolina, this put competitive pressure on London to act in a similar fashion. The problem there was, is that the mainland settlers had embarked on a project and a model of development that was inconsistent with arming Africans. Indeed, their project was involved in enslaving and manacling every African in sight. This deepens the schism between the colonies and the metropolis—that is to say, London—thereby helping to foment a revolt against British rule in 1776.

It’s well known that more Africans fought alongside of the Redcoats—fought alongside the Redcoats than fought with the settlers. And this is understandable, because if you think about it for more than a nanosecond, it makes little sense for slaves to fight alongside slave masters so that slave masters could then deepen the persecution of the enslaved and, indeed, as happened after 1776, bring more Africans to the mainland, bring more Africans to Cuba, bring more Africans to Brazil, for their profit.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to historian Gerald Horne. He’s author of two new books. We’re talking about The Counter-Revolution of 1776. The subtitle of that book is Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. And his latest book, just out, is called Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s professor of history and African American studies at University of Houston. When we come back, we’ll talk about that second book about Cuba. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Slavery Days” by Burning Spear, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago. Juan González is in New York. Before we talk about the book on slavery, I want to turn to President Obama’s remarks at the White House’s Fourth of July celebration last year. This is how President Obama described what happened in 1776.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: On July 4th, 1776, a small band of patriots declared that we were a people created equal, free to think and worship and live as we please, that our destiny would not be determined for us, it would be determined by us. And it was bold, and it was brave. And it was unprecedented. It was unthinkable. At that time in human history, it was kings and princes and emperors who made decisions. But those patriots knew there was a better way of doing things, that freedom was possible, and that to achieve their freedom, they’d be willing to lay down their lives, their fortune and their honor. And so they fought a revolution. And few would have bet on their side. But for the first time of many times to come, America proved the doubters wrong. And now, 237 years later, this improbable experiment in democracy, the United States of America, stands as the greatest nation on Earth.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Obama talking about the meaning of July 4th. Gerald Horne, your book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776, is a direct rebuttal of this, as you call, creation myth. Could you talk about that?

GERALD HORNE: Well, with all due respect to President Obama, I think that he represents, in those remarks you just cited, the consensus view. That is to say that, on the one hand, there is little doubt that 1776 represented a step forward with regard to the triumph over monarchy. The problem with 1776 was that it went on to establish what I refer to as the first apartheid state. That is to say, the rights that Mr. Obama refers to were accorded to only those who were defined as white. To that degree, I argue in the book that 1776, in many ways, was analogous to Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the country then known as Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in November 1965. UDI, Unilateral Declaration of Independence, was in many ways an attempt to forestall decolonization. 1776, in many ways, was an attempt to forestall the abolition of slavery. That attempt succeeded until the experiment crashed and burned in 1861 with the U.S. Civil War, the bloodiest conflict, to this point, the United States has ever been involved in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, how does this story, this, what you call, counterrevolution, fit in with your latest book, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, there’s a certain consistency between the two books. Keep in mind that in 1762 Britain temporarily seized Cuba from Spain. And one of the regulations that Britain imposed outraged the settlers, as I argue in both books. What happened was that Britain sought to regulate the slave trade, and the settlers on the North American mainland wanted deregulation of the slave trade, thereby bringing in more Africans. What happens is that that was one of the points of contention that lead to a detonation and a revolt against British rule in 1776.

I go on in the Cuba book to talk about how one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Cuba was because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, particularly going into the Congo River Basin and dragging Africans across the Atlantic. Likewise, I had argued in a previous book on the African slave trade to Brazil that one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Brazil, more than any place outside of Nigeria, is, once again, because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, who go into Angola, in particular, and drag Africans across the Atlantic to Brazil.

It seems to me that it’s very difficult to reconcile the creation myth of this great leap forward for humanity when, after 1776 and the foundation of the United States of America, the United States ousts Britain from control of the African slave trade. Britain then becomes the cop on the beat trying to detain and deter U.S. slave traders and slave dealers. It seems to me that if this was a step forward for humanity, it was certainly not a step forward for Africans, who, the last time I looked, comprise a significant percentage of humanity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, so, in other words, as you’re explaining the involvement of American companies in the slave trade in Brazil and Cuba, this—that book and also your The Counter-Revolution of 1776 makes the same point that slavery was not just an issue of interest in the South to the Southern plantation owners, but that in the North, banking, insurance, merchants, shipping were all involved in the slave trade, as well.

GERALD HORNE: Well, Juan, as you well know, New York City was a citadel of the African slave trade, even after the formal abolition of the U.S. role in the African slave trade in 1808. Rhode Island was also a center for the African slave trade. Ditto for Massachusetts. Part of the unity between North and South was that it was in the North that the financing for the African slave trade took place, and it was in the South where you had the Africans deposited. That helps to undermine, to a degree, the very easy notion that the North was abolitionist and the South was pro-slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, what most surprised you in your research around Cuba, U.S. slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, what most surprised me with regard to both of these projects was the restiveness, the rebelliousness of the Africans involved. It’s well known that the Africans in the Caribbean were very much involved in various extermination plots, liquidation plots, seeking to abolish, through force of arms and violence, the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, I think that historians on the North American mainland have tended to downplay the restiveness of Africans, and I think it’s done a disservice to the descendants of the population of mainland enslaved Africans. That is to say that because the restiveness of Africans in the United States has been downplayed, it leads many African Americans today to either, A, think that their ancestors were chumps—that is to say, that they fought alongside slave owners to bring more freedom to slave owners and more persecution to themselves—or, B, that they were ciphers—that is to say, they stood on the sidelines as their fate was being determined. I think that both of these books seek to disprove those very unfortunate notions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we move into the Independence Day weekend next weekend, what do you say to people in the United States?

GERALD HORNE: What I say to the people in the United States is that you have proved that you can be very critical of what you deem to be revolutionary processes. You have a number of scholars and intellectuals who make a good living by critiquing the Cuban Revolution of 1959, by critiquing the Russian Revolution of 1917, by critiquing the French Revolution of the 18th century, but yet we get the impression that what happened in 1776 was all upside, which is rather far-fetched, given what I’ve just laid out before you in terms of how the enslaved African population had their plight worsened by 1776, not to mention the subsequent liquidation of independent Native American polities as a result of 1776. I think that we need a more balanced presentation of the foundation of the United States of America, and I think that there’s no sooner place to begin than next week with July 4th, 2014.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gerald Horne, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Historian Gerald Horne is author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America as well as Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

That does it for our broadcast. Happy birthday to Jon Randolph. Democracy Now! has two job openings — administrative director, as well as a seasoned Linux systems administrator — as well asfall internships. Check out democracynow.org/jobs for more information.

 

 

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