On the eve of Independence Day this year, Americans have had a series of wake-up calls, as citizens across the United States have recently witnessed the brutal murders of nine innocent Christians in South Carolina, as well as two extremely controversial United States’ Supreme Court decisions. For Americans who care, these significant events have something eerily in common – they all reflect a serious lack of respect for law, especially a lack of respect for the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. Serious concerns regarding American freedom may be hovering over the smoke of backyard barbeques and fireworks displays during this year’s Fourth of July celebrations.
After the horrific tragedy of the murders of the innocent church members in Charleston, South Carolina, many good hearted Americans were shocked. Such a heinous act of violence is easily viewed as a 21 year old man acting out of hatred with a racist agenda. The response of many politicians in the aftermath of the tragedy was curious. Many called for the removal of the Confederate flag from various government and public locations, as if the flag itself were the cause of the racist attitudes and vicious hate existing within some quarters of the populace.
Despite the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from public locations, and despite politicos claiming credit for such actions, the fact remains that people are the source of racist sentiment, not flags. A piece of cloth can only amplify such attitudes, not serve as the cause of hateful sentiments. Whatever variation of the Confederate flag scrutinized, whether the old “Stars and Bars,” or the seemingly popular battle flag, they all represent a connection to the values of the Confederacy, values totally opposite of declared American values.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, South Carolina as well as six other states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. They drafted a new constitution for this separatist government, and among the authors was Alexander Stephens, a Democrat Congressman from Georgia. In his famous “Cornerstone Speech,” he outlined the purpose of this constitution:
The new constitution has put at rest all of the agitating questions relating to
our peculiar institution, African slavery. This was the immediate cause of the
late rupture and present revolution… The prevailing ideas entertained by him
[Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the
formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African
was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially,
morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with. But
the general opinion of the men of that day was that somehow or other in the
order of Providence, the institution would… pass away. Those ideas, however,
were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of
races. This was an error.
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its cornerstone
rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man, that
slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.
Thus, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon
this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
With this statement, Stephens articulated the attitude of political leadership across the South, and the ideological essence of the newly formed Confederate government. The Cornerstone Speech represents core beliefs of the old Confederacy. And as Stephens proclaimed it, their system was entirely opposite of the core of beliefs that created the United States of America. Any flags associated with the attempt to destroy the government of the United States were symbols of such beliefs, not the causes.
This begs the relevant question of whether the Confederates were truly Americans. If one accepts the principle that “all men are created equal” it indicates alignment with the traditional American values and not an alignment with what Vice President Stephens or President Jefferson Davis believed. They were so racist in their comprehension of the Declaration of Independence that as Davis expressed, the “great principles they [the Founders] announced… have no reference to the slave.”
Indeed, the Declaration of Independence did not mention ending slavery; Davis’ forebears eliminated the words from Thomas Jefferson’s manifesto of freedom. Many Americans are unaware of the complete original text of Jefferson’s initial draft because before the delegates in Congress put their names on the document, Jefferson’s Declaration was amended 88 times before representatives signed it. And even after it was approved the white southern aristocrats altered the phrase – “all men are created equal” into their interpretation: “all FREE men were created equal.”
Upon reading Jefferson’s original version, John Adams is reported as stating that the best part of what Jefferson wrote was the attack on slavery. In 2012, the Smithsonian published a feature article on Jefferson. The author, Henry Wiencek, admitted that in his original draft, “in soaring, damning fiery prose, Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an “execrable commerce… this assemblage of horrors,” a cruel war against human nature itself, violating it most sacred rights of life and liberties.”
Additionally, as historian John Chester Miller put it, “The inclusion of Jefferson’s strictures on slavery and the slave trade would have committed the United States to the abolition of slavery.” It was a path the white southern aristocracy would not follow.
Were such white southern aristocrats, the Confederates truly Americans? By birth, and according to the same Fourteenth Amendment that assured citizenship to former slaves of those aristocrats and slave owners were Americans. But is that truly what it means to be an American?
History demonstrates the Confederates were Americans in name only. Yet, for many of the Founding Fathers, the belief in the dream of freedom was so very real that they were willing to sacrifice their lives. Confederates would never give up their slaves, and would fight to bind them via other people’s lives. This reflects not only racism, but blatant disregard for true American values and a respect for human life. It is such beliefs that exist today that are still a danger to American values and to American citizens.
This is the true danger to the American Dream. And, the American Dream may include material well-being, but at its heart the American Dream is about Freedom – not freedom to disrespect the law, or one another, or to trample the value of human life and kill whomever one pleases. True Freedom comes with responsibility to treat one another with respect, to tolerate one another, rather than to perpetuate divisiveness and disrespect for the law, or civil society. Independence Day should awaken the better part of people to rise above the pettiness of human culture and reconnect to the values and ideals that led to the birth of the United States of America.. United we stand; divided we fall. Let True Freedom ring today!