A Lost Paragraph on Slavery - the Declaration of Independence


Image - Springfield Museums
The Committee of Five by Currier & Ives

We're approaching Independence Day here in America on July 4th, and of course that day is big and important, but as a history nerd I've always been more than a little fascinated with how we got there, so this day is historically interesting to me. On June 11th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress formed a committee, referred to as The Committee of Five and chaired by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. He was joined by fellow John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert Livingston of New York, and the five were tasked with writing what would eventually become the Declaration of Independence.

Image - Wikimedia Commons
A draft copy of the Declaration of Independence

This day in history holds great import to me because in this original draft written by Jefferson we see a vision for a better world, a world that some of our founding fathers were then afraid of. If you go read the original rough draft written by Jefferson you'll find the following paragraph - --------------- "...he has waged war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant person who has never offended him, captivating & carrying them to slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportations thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of a 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 execrable commerce and that this assemblage of horrors might want no face of distinguished die, which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another." --------------- This paragraph was struck from the document even before it was submitted to the Continental Congress, as there was a fear that striking out against slavery would split the thirteen colonies before they could even earn independence from the British Crown. In 1776, African Americans made up about 20% of peoples in the colonies, and in some states, like South Carolina, enslaved peoples made up about 60% of the population. About 1/3rd of those peoples lived on giant plantations with 50 or more enslaved laborers. There was a fear of angering those wealthy southern slaveholders. Too often in America we think of slavery only as it existed at the time of the American Civil War, but the institution was widespread in the time period leading up to the Revolution. While slave populations in the north were smaller than in the south, only about 3% of the New England population, in some large cities those populations were considerably larger. Cities like Boston were as much as 25% enslaved African Americans, who were employed as domestic servants, sailors, coachmen, and a variety of other big city jobs.

Slave ownership in America in 1776 was so widespread that comparisons were made by American Patriots that I find appalling today, calling every colonist a slave to Great Britain by virtue of taxation without representation. This emotional appeal held great sway in the colonies because of the widespread ownership of slaves, north and south, at this time. While I find the rhetoric abhorrent today, I also have to acknowledge that the rhetoric probably helped to put us on a path towards ending slavery. White Americans, when confronted with that comparison, were in some cases forced to look at slavery in a new light, but even here we see two thought processes emerge. In some areas, white Americans said "We find what the Crown is doing abhorrent, but we're doing it ourselves?" Those people who shared this thought process could find no justification for slavery, and in some cases manumitted their slaves with no legal need to do so, and in other, mostly northern, states, slavery was either ended immediately by new laws, or put on a gradual road to extinction. In the south no state passed legislation that ended slavery, and their heavier reliance on slave labor led southerners to seek new justification for this terrible practice. They landed on the inherent racial inferiority of African Americans as their reason that slavery was acceptable, and the continued with a practice that was deemed unacceptable by the rest of the world. The practice of slavery was recognized as disgusting and reprehensible by rulers dating back hundreds, or thousands, of years. Over the course of thousands of years, abolitionist movements have come and gone, thought processes have changed, and probably millions of documents about slavery have been written. If you'd like to see a timeline of abolition, you are invited to fall down this WikiHole. Thousands of years have passed in which man has made up excuses for why it is okay to own fellow man, and even today we're not done with it, as forms of neo-slavery exist throughout the world. Here in the United States the criminal justice system enslaves 2.3 million Americans through forced prison labor and wages that would be substandard, or non-existent, in even the poorest parts of the world. Between 2002 and 2017, American courts allowed more than 200,000 minors to get legally married to adults, most of the minors young women married to adult men, and some of those minors as young as ten years of age.

The USA is one of the few places left in the world where child marriages are legal as young as 9.

These forms of neo-slavery prove that we, as a country, still have much to do, but I'm forced to rewind all the way back to that paragraph I shared at the beginning, from Jefferson. If a respected and influential southern voice had spoken out about the institution, way back in 1776, would be ahead of where we are today? Would we have avoided the Civil War? Would we maybe have never earned our independence because the factions within our forefathers would be unable to agree. I wrote this, and am sharing this, because I wanted everyone to think about these things. This entire blog post is critical race theory in action. At no point did we bash America, at no point did I ask you to hate America. What I've done is provided you with all kinds of information, asked you some questions, and allowed you to draw your own conclusions. That's what Critical Race Theory is, it's a method of teaching history that encourages learners to learn to think for themselves, to find a greater understanding of history that is based on having more factual information. If you're younger than me you were probably educated by several teachers who were using CRT methods, as they've been in existence since the 80s and began to be widely used in the mid to late 90s. Of course, CRT is a subject for many other days, as we're going to talk a lot more about education.

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