As we celebrate the 230th anniversary of American independence, we recall the greatest of our founders, the enduring power of our founding charter and also acknowledge its imperfections. In order to get the representatives of the Southern states to ratify the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson had to drop the lines (from his original draft) excorciating slavery:
He has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable Death, in their Transportation thither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.
He has prostituted his Negative for Suppressing every legislative Attempt to prohibit or to restrain an execrable Commerce, determined to keep open a Markett where Men should be bought and sold
Mr. Jefferson was himself, in historian Joseph Ellis’ words “a bundle of contradictions.” While strongly condemning slavery and promising to release his own slaves, he never followed through on that promise.
It is a fitting tribute to our great country that over time, we have to rectify the imperfections of our founding charters. As the late great Democratic gentlelady from Texas, Barbara Jordan, put it in her Opening Statement to the House Judiciary Committee considering the impeachment of then-President Nixon in 1974:
Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: “We, the people.” It’s a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that “We, the people.” I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in “We, the people.”
Not only have such African-Americans, men as well as women, now come to be included in that eloquent beginning, but like Ms. Jordan they have risen to great heights in American government.
Thomas Jefferson was our nation’s first Secretary of State, a job currently held by Condoleezza Rice. Need anything more be said about the greatness of our nation, particularly its ability to right past wrongs?
Happy Independence Day, America! God Bless the USA!
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com