The Framers and the Fourth: Criticism Of Independence Day Celebrations Ignores Our Collective History

800px-American_1902_Fourth_of_July_fireworksEvery Fourth of July, some celebrity will attract national attention by denouncing the holiday as a type of slaver’s celebration. This year was no exception. In past years, I have said nothing because these comments reflect understandable conflicted feelings by African Americans and others whose ancestors lived through decades of oppression and discrimination. However, it is time to put part of this criticism to rest . . . at least in part. There is a tendency to ignore those Framers who advocated emancipation at our founding and the recognition of the scourge of slavery that would forever taint our history.

Damon Wayan Jr. was one of the first to raise the familiar objection in a tweet reading “Happy white people proud of their racist ancestors day.” After a backlash, Wayan later said it was “A joke some took too personally. So what.”

For his part, former 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick went to Ghana and said that “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?” Instead, he traced his roots to Ghana “to visit the sites responsible for myself (and many other Black folks in the African Diaspora) for being forced into the hells of the middle passage. I wanted to see a fraction of what they saw before reaching the point of no return.”

Kaepernick understandably sought to highlight how African Americans are in a strange position when celebrating independence that did not apply to their ancestors. However, that is only if you define the holiday narrowly. The day celebrates the creation of a new nation and the achievements of a people committed to the values of liberty. We created a nation that was flawed in many ways, but none greater than the perpetuation of slavery. The Constitution would not come about for over a decade when it created a system by which we could change not just our laws but ourselves.  Less than one hundred years after that declaration, millions of white and black soldiers went to war to end slavery and, long before the civil war, millions of abolitionists fought to end the scourge of slavery.

This is not the first time that Kaepernick has adopted an artificially narrow view of our symbols or holidays. His controversial refusal to stand during our national anthem reflected his failure to understand the flag (and the anthem) represent the promise of a free people. Standing for the anthem is actually a statement of faith in the rights (guaranteed by the Constitution) that the flag represents. Saluting that flag is to reaffirm the rights of equality and liberty that it represents – together as one people.

225px-George_Mason_portraitIt is true that many of the Framers were slave-owners and that some like Thomas Jefferson sought the elimination of slavery while retaining their own slaves. Many Framers were not slave owners like John Adams, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Oliver Ellsworth, Robert Paine, Thomas Paine, and Roger Sherman. It is also not that the Framers failed to see the glaring contradiction. George Washington, a slave owner, wrote “I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of [slavery].” Patrick Henry wrote “It is not a little surprising that Christianity … should encourage a practice so totally repugnant to the first impressions of right and wrong.” John Jay, Framer and first Chief Justice, spent his life fighting against slavery. As is often the case, George Mason put it best

“As much as I value an union of all the states, I would not admit the southern states into the union, unless they agreed to the discontinuance of this disgraceful trade, because it would bring weakness and not strength to the union . . . The augmentation of slaves weakens the states; and such a trade is diabolical in itself, and disgraceful to mankind.”

Again, the issue is important to keep in mind when we celebrate our independence. However, the record is not so black and white as suggested. On Independence Day, we celebrate not the people we were but the people we have become. Millions died to end the disgrace of slavery and to fulfill the promise of our Declaration of Independence. We still have a great deal of work to do. That fact however should not keep us from celebrating what we have achieved, together, as a nation. It is not our “racist ancestor’s day” but our day.

In the end, our greatest accomplishment was our ability to not just break away from the Crown but to break away from our own injustices and immorality. Indeed, as an independent people we could no longer blame anyone but ourselves for the rape, enslavement, and murder of millions of slaves in the Land of the Free. That was exactly the point of people like Jay, Henry, and Mason at our founding. They could not overcome the divisions with Southern states while also going to war with Great Britain. Instead, they agreed to principles of liberty and equality that would be the foundation for the abolitionist movement. Their vision would not be realized for another 90 years, but it was a vision passionately discussed among the Framers. The stain of slavery has left an indelible mark on our history but so have the men and women (including Framers) who spoke against it. It is a collective story full of sins and redemption. It is a history worth celebrating.

 

135 thoughts on “The Framers and the Fourth: Criticism Of Independence Day Celebrations Ignores Our Collective History

  1. The resentment of many with respect to slavery and our national history is understandable particularly when you take into account the very incomplete set of facts those folks (like almost all other Americans) consider their educated opinion on the subject. It would be instructive for most Americans who view everything in our past prior to the civil war as horrific, racist crimes to watch the excellent PBS documentary by renowned Harvard history Professor Henry Gates called “Africa”. One of the most fascinating aspects of this program (and there are many riveting aspects about the development and history of Africa) is the unvarnished truth about slavery and the slave trade. Gates makes clear that the bulk of the slaves that came to the western hemisphere during the centuries of the highly profitable African slave trade, were sold into slavery by other black Africans. They did it for the money and they sold people who were from rival or conquered tribes and nations, etc… The popular notion of European slave traders pulling up in their boats and running around the countryside capturing people to kidnap did occur but didn’t account for anything like the majority of people who were to become slaves. Again, most were sold to the Europeans at a substantial profit by African rulers. The kidnapping, if any, tended to occur by Africans capturing other Africans. This is a complicated subject and it takes more than the thumbnail sketch of history that most people have to understand it in any balanced and well understood way. Slavery was the top industry on earth for 400 hundred years. It fueled European colonization and development of the entire western hemisphere. It was far more prevalent in other nations than in the US but our people are so poorly educated about history in general most people are not clear about what happened in Vietnam let alone during the era of the slave trade. We need lots more history to be taught, lots more broadcast history of the quality of Prof. Gates’ work and a whole lot less demonization of our founders based upon what amounts to about a third grade understanding of US history.

  2. In 1863, at the issuance of the unconstitutional Emancipation Proclamation, the Naturalization Act of 1802

    was in full force and it required citizens to be “…free white person(s).”

    Abolition ended slavery and the slaves were freed.

    At that point, the status of slaves changed from that of “property” to “illegal alien”

    requiring immediate deportation.

    In a society of laws, the laws must be obeyed.

  3. Daniel Greenfield had another great editorial. Here is part of it, and the rest is at the link:

    The lefty patriot has a lot in common with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny: he doesn’t exist.

    There’s more to patriotism than hating your political opponents. It’s not a negative emotion. It’s a positive one. It demands the degree of feeling that I heard from a man on a twilight porch in Montana as Fourth of July fireworks filled the sky, “God, I love this country!”

    The difference is easy to spot.

    Republicans stand by their country against foreign enemies no matter who is in the White House. Lefty patriotism however is a rare phenomenon that had previously only occurred when Democrats were in office. And even then, lefty patriotism is as unreliable as solar panels and wind turbines in January.

    Every time we have fought a war, cameras could reliably spot leftists protesting against it. And yes, that even includes WW2.

    Patriots don’t announce that they will move to Canada if the wrong guy wins the election.

    The new progressive patriot doesn’t love this country. Even his newfound resentment of Russia is incidental. He hates Russia because of Trump. Once CNN and the New York Times detach Trump from Russia, he’ll see the wisdom of liking it again. Russia, like every other country except Israel, must be better than America. It’s better than the horrifying orgy of capitalists plundering the planet, racist police randomly shooting young black men, fundamentalists hating women, militarists plotting to bomb brown people and all the other hysterical leftist fantasies which are traced back to this country’s original sins.

    America was founded by racist, capitalist slave-owners who stole the land from the Indians so they could open fast food franchises. That’s what the average college student is taught. It’s what the average leftist believes. How much love can he be expected to feel for America? About as much as you feel for Iran.

    The new lefty patriotism is really anti-patriotism. It doesn’t really resent Russia. Instead it resents President Trump’s call for national greatness. Tying him to Russia is a cynical bid by traitors seeking their last refuge outside of their safe spaces and pronoun-free toilets in the sacred space of patriotism.

    History tells us that lefty patriotism has a shorter life than some of the world’s rarest substances which can only be created in labs and whose very existence continues to be debated by feuding scientists.

    This current phenomenon in which lefties briefly confuse their hatred of America, with their subsidiary hatred of President Trump and a sudden subsidiary resentment of Russia for foisting him on us by cleverly causing the Democrats to nominate a candidate with all the popular appeal of spoiled supermarket tuna, will pass. And it will pass quickly.

    When the Washington Post fails to deliver their Watergate on time, when even the dimmest follower of Occupy Democrats realizes that pigs will fly into his front yard and uproot his Bernie 2020 sign before impeachment happens, they will turn to something else.

    And the new tattered lefty patriotism will go back up to the attic to lie under their moldering American flags and their defaced copy of the Declaration of Independence. Sic transit gloria moonbat.

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/267190/new-lefts-fake-patriotism-daniel-greenfield

    Like I said, there is more at the link!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  4. Look at this nation’s beginning as one might look at a business startup.

    The founders had a vision for this country that is found in the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: This was the product/service they sought to produce. They knew it knew it was the right product for mankind and that it had never been produced by any other country in the history of the world. Most importantly, they knew if they didn’t at least commit themselves to this startup that no other country would. It was all in or nothing.

    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.

    Continuing in the 2nd paragraph, they identified who were the owners of this startup from which the business derives its power. The establishment of this startup would never had been approved had they insisted every state and its people immediately become what the vision said they wanted this country to be. As with any business, changing the culture is a process that takes time. The owners, shareholders of this startup were limited to certain members with the vision being more would be allowed to be part of this franchise later.

    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

    The Articles of Confederation proved to be too weak of a form of government for the managers of this startup to do what they set out to do. The business would go bankrupt before it really got off the ground. It did not have enough power to keep the states business units aligned. The last self-evident truth in the DoI informs them of what needs to be done.

    That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    This provided the constitution we have today. And the preamble addresses the vision of the DoI, and it is the mission statement for our form of government:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    As with any business focused on reaching their vision, we’ve modified how our business model works as technology and culture have transformed. The 27 amendments are the result of what businesses routinely do, a SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This is done improve the business model with an eye towards the vision.

    Are we a better business today than when we started? Are we still working towards that vision? What would a SWOT analysis inform us needs to change?

  5. My takeaway from your piece is that we should celebrate the framework of our country and the principles upon which it is built rather than the flaws that framework is designed to identify and address over time. There will always be flaws….and that is why the framework and the principles are so important.

    Nice piece, sir.

  6. Around here those of East Asian descent seem to ignore the 4th. The South Asians and the Hispanics just appreciate a day off.

    The very few Islamists are currently invisible. There aren’t enough Native Americans to ever be visible.

  7. Mr. Turley’s premise is that on Independence Day we celebrate our collective history. What would that be? Could it be that different peoples experienced that collective history each from their own perspective? Or is our collective history preordained to be remembered from a single point of view?

    From the earliest colonial times to this day, the single most powerful force shaping the history of the United States has been and continues to be white supremacy. Genocide and disinheritance of the First Americans. Slavery. Citizenship proscribed by race. Voting proscribed by race. Residence proscribed by race. Education proscribed by race. Job discrimination. Pay discrimination. Voter suppression. Even today it is at work, from Maine to Miami and from New York to LA. Right in front of our eyes.

    “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” Frederick Douglas asked. What to the Native American is the Fourth of July? To an undocumented person whose family is torn apart, and who lives without access to courts or the protection of the law? What to the family of an Indian in Olathe, Kansas, or a Sikh in Oregon, or a boy who shows his home-made clock to his teacher in Texas?

    As long as America blinds itself to the elephant in the room–this malignant white supremacy–then life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be denied to some, and Frederick Douglas’ accusation is going to resonate, and be repeated, in one form or another, on the 4th of July.

    • Mr. Turley’s premise is that on Independence Day we celebrate our collective history. What would that be? Could it be that different peoples experienced that collective history each from their own perspective? Or is our collective history preordained to be remembered from a single point of view?

      People today experience their own lives. You’re living in an affluent country with something of a legal order within it. The alternative you have in mind for the black population is just what?

      From the earliest colonial times to this day, the single most powerful force shaping the history of the United States has been and continues to be white supremacy.

      Only to black nationalists who fancy the world revolves around their ass. In reality, the most salient features of the country’s history has been colonization commencing with agricultural pioneers, the construction of a social order that owed nothing to feudal-manorial models, industrial development pari passu with the most technologically sophisticated countries in Europe, the construction of a political order derived from renaissance and early modern corporate charters, and the capacity to assemble migrant streams into a whole with a common set of alliegiances. Not unique, of course. Anglophone Canada, Australia, and New Zealand managed to accomplish the same things.

      Blacks constituted not much more than 15% of the population during the ante-bellum period. Caste systems were unusual in the occidental world. They were salient in the Southern states, not in the country at large. It was not until the 1940s that the color bar was anything but an ancillary matter in portions of the country where 70% of the population lived.

      Genocide and disinheritance of the First Americans.

      There was no genocide, except in the imagination of people who recycle Ward Churchill memes. As for ‘disinheritance’, they had no secure property rights in aboriginal populations to violate. While we’re at it, who do you think had been present in territories settled by agricultural pioneers when British settlers arrived? The answer is: aboriginals who’d kicked out the previous set of aboriginals occupying the territory in question.

      Slavery.

      Pretty much a universal institution, bar in Europe after the 11th century and in some European colonies. Who do you think sold us the slaves?

      ,Citizenship proscribed by race. Voting proscribed by race. Residence proscribed by race. Education proscribed by race. Job discrimination. Pay discrimination. Voter suppression. Even today it is at work, from Maine to Miami and from New York to LA. Right in front of our eyes.

      ‘Voter suppression’ is a contemporary nonsense trope. The notion that ‘discrimination’ has much of an effect on your pay packet is fanciful. We have an eight-digit population of employers. They’re price takers in the labor market. As for ‘job discrimination’, the functional operation of labor law (as stewed through the brains of our appellate judiciary) requires mulligans be granted black applicants. Likely doesn’t matter much outside a few sectors (the civil service, higher education, and the legal profession); when it does matter, it’s not doing anyone much good. You don’t live in the antebellum period, so kvetching about ‘education proscribed by race’ is not exactly topical. The share of blacks enrolled in baccalaureate granting institutions as we speak is precisely the same (14%) as their share of the population between the ages of 20 and 25. That’s not a result you’d get if admissions procedures were meritocratic, btw. Restrictive covenants in real estate haven’t been enforced in nearly 70 years, and were not a venerable practice even when they were enforced. (They appeared around 1910, IIRC). Blacks have had American citizenship for 150 years. Northern blacks have had the suffrage for 150 years. Most Southern blacks did not (Tennessee the exception). That’s regrettable. It’s also regrettable that Coleman Young was Mayor of Detroit. You all might up your game in the field of municipal government.

      “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” Frederick Douglas asked. What to the Native American is the Fourth of July?

      The slaves were manumitted in 1865. I take it you hadn’t heard.

      To an undocumented person whose family is torn apart, and who lives without access to courts or the protection of the law?

      We don’t expect it to ‘mean’ much to turnstile jumpers who are in the country illegally. What they have ‘access’ to is a remarkably ineffectual enforcement apparatus and a network of lawyers and social work types helping and harboring them. Foreigners do not have a franchise to settle in this country at their own discretion, and we can avoid ‘tearing their family apart’ by deporting the lot of them and quit extending citizenship to the children of people who are residing here contrary to law. You want to settle in the United States, apply, meet the stated qualifications, and wait in a queue. It’s that simple.

      What to the family of an Indian in Olathe, Kansas, or a Sikh in Oregon, or a boy who shows his home-made clock to his teacher in Texas?

      I’ll expect the youngster in Texas and his attention-whore family to quit making public nuisances of themselves, for the Sikh to give his allegiance to whatever country he can manage and go live in that country; he shouldn’t be settling here if he’s loyal to someplace else, and he shouldn’t come here just to kvetch. As for the Indian in Olathe, Ks, he’s part of a minority that’s less than 1% of the population. He’s not living in an environment its all that challenging to navigate. He can manage. (It helps to manage in this world if you’re not an alcoholic, btw).

      As long as America blinds itself to the elephant in the room–this malignant white supremacy–then life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be denied to some, and Frederick Douglas’ accusation is going to resonate, and be repeated, in one form or another, on the 4th of July.

      White Anglos constitute 63% of the population. The bulk of the orientals and East Indians in this country want no part of racial protest politics and intermarry readily with Caucasians. As for the Latin mestizo population, that’s true of a large bloc of them too. About 1/3 of the black population resides unobtrusively in and among the white majority. Black nationalists do not own this country and are just going to have to live in it and make their arrangements with the world around them. It isn’t a bad place for minorities to live in.

      • Well stated. Unfortunately, I believe the issues you bring up will not be debated because too many people cannot/will not debate any more. It is easier to focus on a few talking points such as “white supremacy,” and to scream racism at anyone who does not agree with those talking points. At one time, I loved debates about the Civil War. However, so very few people have any actual knowledge of 19th century America anymore. I must note though that a few posts do indicate there are a few of us left.

          • I’m not a liberal, just a decent person with historical awareness who is disgusted by racists like you. You remind me of the people in Germany who want to be nuanced and point out that Hitler also built the highway system. People like you are just really really disgusting.

          • DDS, -Are you holding up under the withering critique of the Saintly Sven?
            ‘Bout time this site got such a morally superior jackass to pass judgement on others.
            What Sven lacks in intellect, he makes up for in holiness.

    • What to the Irish American is the Fourth of July?
      What to the Italian American is the Fourth of July?
      What to the German American is the Fourth of July?
      I would think all three groups would feel it is a celebration of a land that they could escape to and through hard work succeed. It’s interesting that you focus on only the groups that seem to be looking for a hand out or want to be pawns of a political group.

      “Even today it is at work, from Maine to Miami and from New York to LA. Right in front of our eyes.”
      Please enlighten with an example or two

      • Looking for a hand out? Like the Jews in Germany in 1946? Black people in this country were subjected to genocidal action for hundreds of years, take some f.ing responsibility you scum. Why are there’s so many disgusting individuals on JT’s site?

        • There was no ‘genocidal action’. The black population of these United States increased from about 600,000 in 1776 to 4 million in 1860. That’s not what ‘genocide’ looks like, Sven. People who invest in slaves may be heartless and brutal much of the time. They do have an interest in maintaining their investment even if they are heartless and brutal. Killing your farm labor is unclear on the concept. (While we’re at it, just who sold us the slaves?).

          That aside, the slaves were manumitted 150 years ago. That would be five generations ago. By 1880, about 60% of the black population had moved out of the agricultural sector. By 1920, more than 3/4 of the black population (over 14) was literate (with the illiterate concentrated in the older age groups) and 70% of black children in the former slave states were enrolled in elementary school at any one time (the national mean was 77% and for white Southerners 81%). By 1980, nearly all had moved in to non-agricultural occupations, literacy was nearly universal among American blacks and 11% of each cohort were receiving baccalaureate degrees. The standard of living among American blacks was by then equivalent to that of Mediterranean Europe. Black Americans are the most affluent and sophisticated negroid population in the world, with the possible exception of West Indians in Canada (who are outnumberd by American Blacks by nearly 100-to-1). This is not what genocide looks like.

          There is one large area where conditions for black Americans are not good, and that is the level of security in neighborhoods and schools. Of course, the Giuliani / Bloomberg / Bratton / Kelly initiatives in New York City were highly successful in this regard, as were those of Anthony Williams in DC and Robert Bowers in East Orange, NJ. People who fancy themselves tribunes of the black population are indifferent to this or hostile. The reason for that is that they’re poseurs who don’t actually give a rip about the welfare of black wage-earners.

    • So what you’re saying is that the single point of view ought to be yours because of your superior understanding of American history. Thankfully that will never happen. And if there is but one viewpoint on American history how is it that you have come to a different conclusion? Perhaps it’s because the statement your diatribe is predicated on is false. It is true that the dominant standard view of American history has been produced by white people. No question. You presume that to be automatically wrong and distorted yet most of the debunking of long held historical myths about America has been done by white historians. Most of the work that has been done to dismantle white supremacy has been done by whites. Most of the history of the country is about white people too and that is primarily because historically most of the people in the country have been white. I’m sure this bothers you but if you would take the time to actually learn more history you would develop a more nuanced and accurate critique though I’m sure the standard line of criticism you have learned to parrot is emotionally satisfying to you personally and that you will cling to it regardless of the fact that the truth of our history is vastly complicated and can no more be summarized by the standard textbook versions of American history taught so inadequately in our schools than by your simplistic and self righteous distortion of our history.

  8. Great article. The founders weren’t perfect but revolutionary in putting forth a gov’t that set in motion irresistible forces that resulted in great change. They were ahead of their time.

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