The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew they were taking a great personal risk when they signed a document pledging “Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor” to declare independence from England. They knew they were putting their very lives at risk and they are purported to have said to each other, “We must all hang together on this or we will all hang separately.”
Whether that is an apocryphal or real doesn’t matter. It or something similar must have been on their minds. Great courage was necessary to take on a dispute with their home country which at the time had the most powerful army on earth. They knew very well they what they were risking, nothing less than “Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor.”
Why did they do it? Aside from the enumerated complaints against King George III it was to found a new nation, conceived in liberty.
Matthew Spalding of Hillsdale College, writing at the Washington Examiner today:
The document’s famous second paragraph is a powerful synthesis of American constitutional and republican government theories. The right to liberty of all men stems from the natural equality of men, which means none are naturally superior (and deserve to rule) or inferior (and deserve to be ruled). Because men are endowed with these rights, the rights are unalienable, which means that they cannot be given up or taken away. And because individuals equally possess these rights, governments derive their just powers from the consent of those governed. The purpose of government is to secure these fundamental rights and, although prudence tells us that governments should not be changed for trivial reasons, the people retain the right to alter or abolish government when it becomes destructive of these ends.
One charge that Jefferson had included, but Congress removed, was that the king had “waged cruel war against human nature” by introducing slavery and allowing the slave trade into the American colonies. A few delegates were unwilling to acknowledge that slavery violated the “most sacred rights of life and liberty,” and the passage was dropped for the sake of unanimity. Thus was foreshadowed the central debate of the American Civil War, which Abraham Lincoln saw as a test to determine whether a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could long endure.
Slavery had been a near universal world institution but it was Eighteenth Century Enlightenment that allowed men to see it as a “cruel war against human nature.” They had all just agreed that liberty and unalienable rights bestowed upon man by his creator was at the heart of human nature. Nevertheless, a great many people were deriving their sustenance on the backs of slaves. Even those who might have acknowledged its horrors were determined never to give it up and seek their fortunes by other means.
Yes, it would have been wonderful if slavery had been abolished then and there, on July 4, 1776. But as we now know with the greatest certainty, it was going to take a brutal civil war that would see 650,000 Americans give their lives in the struggle to finally have it done and over with. That was to be 89 years in the future.
Jefferson, himself a slave owner, and others did see that there was a deep conflict between the Declaration’s proclamation of freedom and the existence of Negro slavery. They did continue the fight to end it, against powerful forces.
Article One, section 9 of the Constitution provides:
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
This section evinces the fact that slavery was was a contentious issue 21 years after the Declaration of Independence. There were several at the Constitutional Convention that would have been willing to abolish slavery, but the Southern colonies would never have ratified it. Some sort of compromise had to be worked out in order to get anything about slavery accomplished. Abolition of the slave trade was the compromise, but only after twenty years. In 1808 the 20 years was up and Congress immediately passed the 1808 law prohibiting the importation of any additional slaves.
…you have to wonder about the future of a party, most of whose members don’t like the country they are trying to take over. Maybe when they have turned the U.S. into Venezuela or Cuba they will be proud to be Americans. Let’s hope they don’t get that opportunity.
Well, we did free their slaves. We did oppose their Jim Crow laws. We did force them to integrate schools and serve blacks at the lunch counter. Well, the Democrats who hated us for that are mostly dead now. The current hatred has more to do with the brain washing of children in public schools. We need to do something about that.