Revolution #53, July 16, 2006
Check It Out:
Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution
Or Further Thoughts on “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July”
Think this country was founded on “freedom and justice for all,” or anything like that? Check out Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution, by Alfred W. Blumrosen and Ruth G. Blumrosen. This book makes a compelling argument that the moves to independence by the colonies that ultimately formed the United States of America were in principal part led by the landed aristocracy of Virginia, motivated by an important court ruling in England in June 1772 that threatened their whole slave set-up. That decision, along with laws passed by the British Parliament in 1766 stating that it had an unabridged right to be the ultimate decider of the colonials’ fate (including their rights to slave ownership), impelled the elite of Virginia to call for the formation of intercolonnial committees of correspondence in early 1773, and then to propose the First Continental Congress a year later in the face of further hostile moves by England.
As Slave Nation points out, it was at this Congress that the key agreement among colonial leaders in preparation for a united resistance to English rule was negotiated with John Adams—that of preserving and protecting chattel slavery. Adams then went on to bury various bills in the Massachusetts legislature that would have abolished slavery in his state. This agreement solidified the colonials into organized, collective opposition and ultimately made the revolution of 1776 possible. An anti-colonial struggle it was. But Slave Nation makes the point:“The agreement to preserve slavery in the colonies, negotiated at the First Continental Congress in 1774 with John Adams, was kept in the Declaration of Independence. Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, reviewing the history of slavery in Virginia and several other states, concluded: ‘From the perspective of the black masses, the Revolution merely assured the plantation owners of their right to continue the legal tyranny of slavery.’”
The central role of preserving slavery in the U.S. war of independence from England sheds light on why four out of the first five Presidents of this “homeland of freedom and democracy”—Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe—were from Virginia, and were all slave owners. The phrasing of the Declaration of Independence itself was deliberately left vague—”the pursuit of happiness” was used to signify and at the same time obscure the “right” to hold slaves as property. But as admitted by its participants, the questions that consumed the Constitutional Convention centered on the continuation of slavery.
Slave Nation offers important exposure of the true origins and nature of democracy as it has developed and is understood in the United States.
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