We study US history in school, learning about our valiant founding fathers. At baseball games we sing our national anthem that hails the United States as the “land of the free.” Is it? Was it founded upon the ideals of freedom for all people? Women of any race, African Americans and American Indians weren’t the populations those founders intended to liberate or allow to vote. What are the facts of those times?
Forty-one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. That is circumstantial evidence of their intentions in separating from England to preserve that institution, of course. Let’s look at the historical progression: British taxes on sugar (1764); then taxes on tea and paper (publishing) made the colonists grumble and begin the Continental Correspondence. In 1772, when the British court ruled on the Somerset Case, that a Black slave became free once they stepped foot in England, the “founding fathers” decided that was just about enough. Slaves free in England! Would the Colonies be far behind? Slave owners in the 13 colonies would lose a great source of their wealth.
Soon after that news, the struggle began in earnest, Correspondence Circles in the Colonies became centers of insurgency. The papers were drawn. In an often repeated paragraph, the Declaration of Independence says,
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — 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.
The words sound so honorable and exemplary, if we believe they mean everyone. They really did not. Rights were exclusively for slaveholding and landowning men, not all humans. It is clear that Men meant European Men, with no apologies to those excluded. I read the revisionist US history, An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz. What I learned shook to the core the founding myths I’d accepted as truth. A central thesis is Independence was not solely to escape tyranny, but to preserve slavery.
British colonies still connected with the Motherland freed their slaves in 1833. We can accept or reject the theory that slave holders in what became the United States pushed for independence to maintain their work force and source of revenue; people as property. The truth is, becoming separate from England did prolong slavery and since a great deal of money was involved, it would not seem surprising that it was intentional.
What of our southern neighbor? After the Mexican Revolution the African slaves who lived there were freed in 1829, a law promoted by their Afro-Mexican President Vicente Guerrero I wrote about earlier. Throughout the mid-1800s one branch of the Underground Railroad went south to libertad. Mexico welcomed our refugees.
Have we achieved liberty for all in the US? If we each act with compassion, we may get closer to our ideals. I’ll quote our alternate national anthem as a call for economic independence, education, and justice for each person within our borders, “from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
What is your definition of freedom?
Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! –Rebecca
- An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz
- Slave Nation: How Slavery United The Colonies And Sparked The American Revolution, by Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen.