Tuesday, 10 November 2020

American History - Jefferson's DOI Edited to Remove Condemnation of Slavery!

Thomas Jefferson (Official Presidential Portrait) Rembrant Peale, 1800
Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” of the Declaration of Independence - Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents | Exhibitions - Library of Congress

With the Black Lives Matter campaign still ongoing in the USA, it's worth taking a quick look at the history of a constitution which allowed slavery for so long and which has left America with a divided society where racism is institutionalised and a white President-reject who relied on racist white supremacists for support, describing them as 'very fine people'. And a very large proportion of the population incensed at the realisation that America now has a black (female!) Vice President, as though having had a black President for 8 years wasn't bad enough!

This also relates to the increasing clamour from the evangelical Christian white supremacists insisting that America is a Christian country, founded as such by the almost saint-like figures of the (White Christian) Founding Fathers.

The truth, as always with these assertions from the extreme right in politics is very different.

The founding document of the American Republic, the Declaration of Independence (DOI), was originally drafted by that deist friend of Thomas Paine and follower of John Locke, the liberal left Humanist, Thomas Jefferson. It included the following passage:
[King George III] 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, & 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.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 1, 1760-1776. Ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp 243-247)
That reference to 'purchas[ing] that liberty' refers to a 1775 proclamation by Britain’s Lord Dunmore, which offered freedom to any enslaved person in the American colonies who volunteered to serve in the British army against the patriots’ revolt. Jefferson didn't overlook the hypocrisy of offering freedom to those Britain had allowed to be enslaved in return for helping to enslave others, including themselves, in a subject colony.

Note too, Jefferson's sarcastic reference to the 'infidel powers' of the 'CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain', under whom slavery had been allowed and encouraged, and under whom every attempt to legislate against it had been suppressed. This was the Christianity that was so despised by Thomas Paine and against which they were building an egalitarian republic where all people were free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, free from the interference of the Christian churches that had of course supported tyrannical demagogueryy, opposed democracy and divided society, pitting man against man in squabbles over who held to the right truth, all jusified by a book which Thomas Paine had condemned as a forgery in The Age of Reason.

But why was this anti-slavery paragraph removed?

Quite simply, many southern states had become economically dependent on slaves and would have resisted attempt to abolish slavery, putting the future of the Republic in danger. They also needed to retain the support of allies in the north who, while not owning slaves themselves, had nevertheless done very nicely out of the slave trade, as had many potential friends and supporters in England. The states of South Carolina and Georgia in particular would never agree to a declaration which condemned slavery, so the above passage was removed from the final version of the DOI and slavery was not abolished until the Civil War resolved the issue, a hundrd years and five generations of brutal slavery later, while white children were being raised to regard themselves as the natural superior of black people, the heirs of Thomas Jefferson, et. al. and alone entitled to the priviledges and fruits of the democracy he helped build. A society which enthusiastically embraced the perverted notion of 'Social Darwinism'.

Despite his fine words, Jefferson himself continued to own slaves, as did George Washington and several other signatories to the DOI.

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