Although it may be forgotten sometimes amid all the alcohol and fireworks, of which I enjoyed plenty of both, the Fourth of July holiday in America really should be a time to revisit, whether internally or externally, just what has made our country into what it is today.
America’s past isn’t all peaches and cream. We may have this great image of freedom in our minds, but, well, freedom is something we’ve continually needed to battle for in this country, even well after the date we declared that Liberty was an unalienable human right. Right off the bat we had the whole Revolutionary War thing itself. A battle where tens of thousands of people fought for over four years to achieve something they saw as their birthright. Freedom.
I don’t have to tell you how that freedom really only fully existed for a small percentage of the population, those who were white, male, and owned property (at least in most states). For those who were not part of that group, it must have appeared quite disappointing, to fight for their rights, only to have them owned by some other group of rich people, these ones, of course, living right here next to them, instead of overseas.
Well, actually, considering how well manipulated we have always been as a country by those with money and power…they might not have ever noticed.
That’s why some believe that the South as an entity could be so wholly behind the secessions which led to the Civil War. Approximately 32% of white families in the South owned slaves. The rest simply weren’t wealthy enough. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still an astounding number of people using other people as workhorses, but still…not quite the majority by any means. So why would so many people fight to keep their slaves when they, in fact, had none?
There are two sides of the rich people coin to consider here, which are still there today. The first being the most apparent. I might not be rich now, but the American Dream means I could be someday and wouldn’t it suck if I finally got rich and wasn’t able to buy slaves then?
The other is that the rich people manipulated the message of why they needed to secede. Although the story was utilized much more fully during the Reconstruction period after the war, the reason for secession was presented to the people as a rather simple one: They’re taking away our rights!
That message is a pretty good one to use, considering how even back then we were a nation who loved to preach the gospel of the Revolution. How many young men heard that their rights were being taken away and saw this as an opportunity to be the new freedom fighters?
This message still works incredibly well today. One of the reasons we have the president we have today is because he did such a fantastic job of presenting himself as someone who would take things back to those glory days. I’m not certain he defined the period of American history he was pointing to when he wanting to make America great again, but he was using that same message we’ve seen throughout our entire history. And honestly, when it comes to looking at his focus of shaking up Washington and breaking down the corruption and waste of tax dollars, how can’t one hear a little bit of that rallying cry of the Revolution.
And his timing honestly couldn’t have been better. We are in a period of immense civil unrest. Take a look at this list from Wikipedia on protests and riots in America over its history. I’m not going to try and pretend this is a comprehensive list, but it should be seen as a list of notable occurrences in our nation’s history. Just looking at the past 40 years, we’ve gone from approximately 6 in a decade to nearly 30 in the past 8 years. That’s double the number shown for the previous 10 year period.
Now take a look back a bit higher up on that list to the period preceding the civil war. There are 16 incidents listed for the 1800-1849 time period. And then the same number for 1850-1859. There were four times as many incidents per decade in the ten years leading up to the Civil War.
And what was the straw that broke the camel’s back? The election of a president.
We may today see Lincoln as this paragon of freedom, but his primary focus was not abolition. In fact, he was quite vocal about how he was not an abolitionist. He often talked about other options, such as shipping all the slaves off to Liberia. That’s definitely not the message we want to hear about America’s greatest president.
If you look closer at what was happening at the time, it makes plenty of sense that he didn’t go into office spouting off about how he was going to take away everyone’s slaves. Our nation was highly divided. It was already apparent that we were falling apart. His focus at the time of his election was not one of freeing the slaves, but of not being the guy responsible for causing our great nation to cease to exist.
Not that any of that mattered on Juneteenth, when the slaves were told they were finally free. When they were told that they had finally achieved what this nation had promised them for so many years. When they, as a race, were able to see what this American Dream could all be about. Whether it was his intention or not, Lincoln became the man responsible for freeing the slaves.
Well…sorta…It would only take another hundred years of fighting for their rights in order to be able to use the same water fountains as white people, or to be able to vote. Not to mention that the Emancipation Proclamation was not responsible for freeing a single slave itself. And then you can look into how this quickly led into our tradition of incarcerating black men and women for relatively petty crimes in order to use them for hard labor in prison camps. Or…
Alright, that’s getting a little off track. Lincoln was a central figure in America’s history and can be seen as a man who freed the slaves, even if his acts themselves did very little in the actual scheme of things.
But he was a man who was elected to office during a time of civil unrest which led to some pretty drastic changes around our country, even if they took some time to land.
He was a man who did not believe white and black men should have equal rights, who didn’t want them voting, serving on juries, or even marrying white folks. Even at his best, he only offered the right to vote to those who had served for the Union during the Civil War.
Honestly, freedom happened in spite of him. The people simply didn’t give him any other choice.
I can’t help but wonder how our country will change this time around.
Side note: Did you realize King George III’s reign began in 1760? Just five years before the Stamp Act Congress, which is what we consider the start of the American Revolution.