Our recently concluded Independence Day celebrations glossed over important history associated with the Fourth of July.
Americans like to state that establishing our independent nation was all about freedom. But whose freedom - and at whose expense?
Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, essentially outlawed slavery in Britain in 1772, when he decided that James Somersett, a slave purchased in Virginia, taken to England, where he then escaped, could not be forcibly returned to his master. American slave holders were alarmed and appalled at this, fearing that the decision portended an end to slavery throughout the British colonies. The great British Tory Samuel Johnson noted the hypocrisy in their protests. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?"
Black slaves weren't the only ones with reason to favor continued British rule. For if the British had won the revolutionary war, the indigenous nations of North America would almost certainly have fared better than they did on the receiving end of unrestrained settler colonialism, which quickly reached genocidal proportions. The British Parliament wanted the colonies to remain a coastal enclave, because small colonies are easier to control, while the American colonists wanted to establish a vast new empire. And they did, wiping out millions of indigenous people in the process.
Our "sweet land of liberty" is soaked in the blood of countless innocent victims, who did their best to teach us the difference between liberty and license. Have we learned the lesson?
Time will tell.
Samuel Johnson quoted in James Boswell's, "The Life of Samuel Johnson," p. 425
Somersett case cited in Ray Raphael's "A People's History of the American Revolution - How Common People Shaped The Fight For Independence," (New Press, 2001) pps. 246-7