The Fourth, Again
In 1776, a small group of male, white, slave-owning elites, declared themselves independent from their government to protect their own economic interests. Thomas Jefferson, a man who owned and raped other human beings, a man who would keep his own children as slaves, was chosen to write their declaration of independence. Hiding his true feelings, Jefferson wrote in aspirational tones about universal freedom and equality, and the rabble, which the elites feared, was roused to action.
With pluck, good fortune, many dead, and the help of France, the revolutionaries won their independence and established a patriarchal, white supremacist oligarchy. The slave-owner revolutionaries canonized themselves as “founding fathers.” Monuments were erected in their honor. For nearly a century, America built its fortunes on the backs of enslaved human beings.
But the promise of Jefferson’s rhetoric endured. Religious northern white women working with freed blacks began a movement against slavery. This movement became abolition. It slowly took hold and eventually toppled a political party.
In 1861, another small group of male, white, slave-owning elites, declared themselves independent from their government to protect their own economic interests. These new revolutionaries, calling themselves Confederates, knew the tide was turning. This time they did not mask their allegiance to white supremacy nor their devotion to the institution of slavery in the rhetoric of equality when writing their own declarations of independence. They made clear their dream of a vast slave empire that would rule over the Caribbean and much of the American continents.
It took more than half a million American dead to settle the question of slavery, but nothing was done to eradicate the white supremacy that fueled its existence. Over the next decades white supremacy crept into every crevice of American life. Racism became so ubiquitous it became nearly invisible.
White women eventually got the vote, after centuries of struggle, though equality is still an open question. Black Americans too, eventually got the vote, roughly a century after emancipation, though equality is still an open question.
July, 4, 2020. Another small group of mostly male, white elites, enamored of America’s slave-owning past, are trying to claim the government and the nation in order to protect their own economic interests. Like their forefathers they do not mask their allegiance to white supremacy. They make clear, when they declare their intention to “Make America Great Again,” their desire to keep America what it has always been.
We stand at the cusp of another flash point in American history. Another battle in a war sparked by the empty promises of a wealthy Virginia slaver 244 years ago. To deliver on those promises will take more than protests and an election. It will require a true reckoning with both our present and our past.
The names, the places, and details change, but history is an endless repetition. It’s a loop of injustices and lessons unlearned. A cycle of human nature we are either unwilling or unable to break. And yet, at every spin of the wheel we get a little closer to doing just that. We have the chance now, let’s finish the job.