Public Comment

Declaration of Independence for Whom?

Harry Brill
Thursday July 05, 2018 - 01:10:00 PM

We have just celebrated on the 4th of July the struggle by the American colonies for independence from England. This remarkable anti-imperialistic doctrine, the Declaration of Independence, explained why the colonies should declare their independence from Great Britain. Especially important and moving about the document is the following line -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 

Nevertheless, there were significant shortcomings in the Declaration. Actually, Congress did not mean all men. In one paragraph the document refers to "the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." The justification was that many Native Americans sided with Britain. But that was not surprising because they were brutally treated as their land was being stolen by the American colonists. The colonists gave a lame excuse because they treated Native Americans who did not side with Britain similarly. In fact, the colonists became the new imperialists. 

And nor did "all men" include slaves. To the credit of Thomas Jefferson, although he was a slave holder, he drafted an anti-slavery paragraph to be considered for the Declaration of Independence. However, Georgia and South Carolina threatened that they would not vote for independence unless this proposal was deleted. So it was. 

Also, the South wanted to count these non-voting slaves to increase their representation in Congress. The compromise was that each slave would be counted as three-fifths. Conveniently for the south, women were included. This compromise was quite a concession because it allowed the slaveholders to largely dominate the federal government until the civil war. 

On one matter the colonists kept their word. By "all men" they really meant all men. Women were excluded. Not only could they not vote. They were denied property rights and the right to make any legal contracts. Yet women played an important role in winning the war. They organized boycotts of goods from Britain and many women served as nurses for wounded soldiers. They served as spies as well. They worked as cooks and maids for the British where they eavesdropped on conversations about troop movements and military plans. And although women were not allowed to join the military, many women served as secret soldiers. They disguised themselves as men by cutting their hair and binding their breasts with bandages. Of course, they adopted masculine names. 

Despite their accomplishments women received no official recognition. They continued to remain under the control of their husbands. Women had to wait for 144 years after the Declaration of Independence to win the right to vote. African Americans did not receive their freedom for almost 90 years. And now many immigrants, particularly Hispanics, are being subjected to unprecedented brutality. To celebrate the 4th of July holiday we need to remind our public officials again and again and again that all people are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In contrast to the founding fathers, we the people really mean it!