Recently a New Jersey High School principal apologized for “party like it’s 1776” on prom tickets. The principal wrote:
“I especially apologize to our African American students, who I have let down by not initially recognizing the inappropriateness of this wording.” Fox News
The facts do not support the idea that modern Americans should be ashamed of the founding of their country, nor should they be ashamed of the fact that slavery was still an existing institution in the new country, the founding of which is associated with the year 1776 and the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Sowell summed up the impulse that drives many modern racists trying to cash in on racism when he wrote:
“Those who mine history for sins are not searching for truth but for opportunities to denigrate their own society, or for grievances that can be cashed in today, at the expense of people who were not even born when the sins of the past were committed.” Thomas Sowell: Poisoning present by distorting slavery’s past
To hear many today you would think that slavery was invented by white Americans and the sin of slavery in America somehow negates the great virtues of America in particular, and Western Civilization in general. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although we cannot know with absolute certainty when human slavery was invented we can be fairly certain from the evidence that it was practiced at least from the beginning of the Neolithic age well over 10,000 years ago.
In centuries since people of every human race have practiced slavery, and been enslaved. Probably through the whole of human history as many Caucasians have been enslaved as people of African descent – see White Slavery and Slavery on Wikipedia. The very word “slave” comes from the name of the Slavic people of Europe who were a source of slaves to the Muslim empire of the Middle Ages.
It is true that slavery was still being practiced in America at its founding, but America was not unique in that respect – slavery was common throughout the world at that time in many places. Only a fraction of Africans exported as slaves went to North America. Many more went to South America and Islamic countries of the Middle East.
What makes America different is that it was part of the Western Civilization that by the 18th century was starting to think of ending slavery and in the end did end it, at least in the parts controlled by it. Quoting Thomas Sowell again:
“Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century. People of every race and color were enslaved – and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.”
“Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century – and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of the 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there. But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.”
“Deciding that slavery was wrong was much easier than deciding what to do with millions of people from another continent, of another race, and without any historical preparation for living as free citizens in a society like that of the United States, where they were 20 percent of the population.”
“It is clear from the private correspondence of Washington, Jefferson, and many others that their moral rejection of slavery was unambiguous, but the practical question of what to do now had them baffled. That would remain so for more than half a century.”
That question was finally answered by a war in which one life was lost [620,000 Civil War casualties] for every six people freed [3.9 million].
Americans of all colors should be proud of America and of 1776. Go ahead and party like it’s 1776!
Was America perfect at its founding? No. Was it a step in the right direction? Absolutely!
History records the evils that men and women have done. It also records their difficult progress, step by step, to eliminate evil. In that story, the story of America is one of progress in that direction. It was not a story without error, or without evils, but it was a story of great progress, some of the greatest.
Men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others were slave owners in their lifetime, but their acts and their intellectual contributions certainly were key in setting the foundations for the elimination of slavery in America.
No American should ever apologize for 1776 to anyone. America inherited slavery from the past and among other countries in the West, especially Great Britain, America fought to abolish it. Black American slaves were not freed soon after 1776, but the fact is that 1776 was instrumental in getting to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the final freeing of slaves in 1865.
Americans are not proud of the history of slavery in America, but they are justifiably proud of their country’s achievements in ending it, and the great sacrifices they made to do so.
Yes, let’s party like it’s 1776.