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Land of the Free? When Was This?

July 17, 2013

You may hear some people say that if James Madison or Thomas Jefferson were brought back to life, they would not recognize this country as if to say we have recently lost our freedoms. Well, did we ever have our freedoms to begin with? The Founding Fathers, as brilliant and courageous as they were, lied to us. Abraham Lincoln, the so-called “Great Emancipator,” lied to us. The Supreme Court of the United States, in upholding Jim Crow laws, lied to us. Thankfully, one o the great things about this country is that over time, North Americans get smarter, I think. We recognize our transgressions and work to correct them, don’t we? Some of the greatest advances in human rights have come after some of the greatest assaults on them. After 230 years of exceptional indignity, lawlessness, and bloodshed, we can now say that “all Men are created equal,” and mean it, right? I know that certainly was not the case in 1776, but is that really the case now?

We have been through some troubling times before in our nations history. There were the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 when newspaper editors, civilians–who criticized the government–were placed in jail. Today we have Edward Snowden who spoke out against the government and has been exiled from the United States with his passport revoked. We also have George Zimmerman who although was acquitted of any wrongdoing for acting in self-defense faces a possible federal Civil Rights criminal prosecution and a wrongful death lawsuit. If we go back in time again, we see our great hero Abraham Lincoln suspend habeas corpus during the Civil War. In the new version of the movie 3:10 To Yuma, the character played by actor Christian Bale felt compelled to say that he fought for the North in the Civil War. Around this time the great Abraham Lincoln even arrested members of the Maryland legislature and all kinds of people around the country who objected to his policies. Where was the freedom then?

And lets look at freedom upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 20 percent of North America’s population was enslaved according to the book, Never Forget: They Kept Lots of Slaves. Most of the approximately five hundred thousand slaves living in the United States in 1776 were concentrated in the southernmost states, where they represented 40 percent of the population according to Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation. The Founding Fathers owned slaves. In fact, four of the first five North American Presidents, including the still-beloved George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, owned slaves according to Gordon Wood, the author of Never Forget: They Kept Lots of Slaves. 

So how free is this nation and when did this freedom begin? Thomas Jefferson condemned slavery and vehemently opposed its expansion. In his first term in the Virginia House of Burgesses, Jefferson proposed a law to free Virginia’s slaves according to Spalding. In 1774, Jefferson urged Virginia delegates of the First Continental Congress to abolish the slave trade. According to Denise and Frederic Henderson, Jefferson had stated, “the abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was unhappily introduced…” Furthermore, Jefferson wrote a draft constitution for the State of Virginia that forbade the importation of slaves. Also, in the draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson complained of Britain’s introduction of slavery and the slave trade to the colonies.

Jefferson also played an integral role in enacting the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which quickened the westward expansion of the United States and later in 1808 President Jefferson signed a statute prohibiting the Atlantic slave trade.

So Jefferson should be admired for instilling in North America the democratic and egalitarian principles that we hold so sacred today. The fact remains, however, that Jefferson owned slaves. What are we to conclude about this paradox?

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From → Liberty

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