The Biggest Issue

This past August marked the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of enslaved persons in America. Some have claimed that this date is the true beginning of the real America and that the official beginning of America on 4 July 1776, which will have its quarter-millennial in six years, is a fraud meant to disguise the reality that America is a bigoted, exclusionary, murderous society. Both stories –freedom in 1776, and slavery in 1619– are false. Both are true.

The reality is that 1776 and 1619 have been in continual conflict for all of American history. We saw this in the abolition movement, the suffrage movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the cultural conservative movement, and the current political debate. One side of this conflict defines America as a white, Anglo, Christian, property-owning state that, at most, tolerates other colors, cultures, creeds, and classes. The other side defines America as history’s greatest citadel of human equality and personal liberty, embracing all colors, all cultures, all creeds, and all classes. The 1776 side includes all. The 1619 side excludes most.

Throughout our history, one sees leaders who join one side and then the other. John Jay was one of the co-founders of the Society for the Manumission of Slaves. He was also a virulent anti-Catholic who sought to ban “Papists” from holding public office. Charles Pinckney “owned” enslaved persons, but he defended the Moroccan Muslim community in Charleston. Woodrow Wilson spoke in favor of racial segregation, but he supported Amendment XIX, and he appointed the first religious minority to the U.S. Supreme Court. In these contradictions, one sees 1619 at war with 1776.

The excuse for a man currently posing as a president is a living embodiment of 1619. His Democratic opponent must embody 1776. Every great conflict of American history has been settled, often belatedly, with a victory for freedom. The dark force of domination has always eventually lost.

If the advanced nations of the world unite to defeat the global ecological catastrophe, life without freedom will still not be worth living. The battle for freedom in America is as important as the battle for species survival around the world. It is the biggest issue.

by Maury Marcus

Comments 5

  1. Aside from a few minor points, and the conclusion, which I disagree with, this was a beautiful piece of writing. The conflict between the two dates you mentioned were more blurred and the conflicts you mentioned were going on in both periods of time. Europe dispensed with slavery much earlier than we did and one of the reasons for the “revolution” was that both England and France were moving toward getting rid of slavery at that time. The battle over slavery continued even after the invention of the “cotton gin”. Slavery was becoming unprofitable, but prejudice and oppression in general have continued until this day, because to some, it seemed and seems profitable. Freedom is a broad term, and workers today, who are in fact trading partners, are not seen in that light, because profits might falter for the very rich. Wealth via capital grows exponentially in every advanced nation including, and especially, in China and the United States. This growth of capital in such few hands undermines every government’s better wishes and angels, and destroys democracy, which is the best test of real freedom as I understand it. Hypocrisy, your name is humanity. I could easily argue that freedoms given are those that promote capital, and that democracy around the world is largely a myth. Even the more enlightened rich see this problem and this same problem is behind the global warming we are experiencing. Small freedoms such as many seem to symbolically worship, and freedom in its broad indefinable sense, are perhaps part of the struggle for democracy and freedom, but they are just inevitable struggles within a game that is the life of this planet. The life of this planet is the entire game in which the struggle for freedom gets its life and correct direction: the struggle for fuller individual lives over the influence of an exponential growth of capital. The life of our planet is fundamental and the main issue to be addressed, without it the struggle for freedom will meet a dead end, and in the preservation of our planet, or the attempt to do so, is at the heart of the struggle for freedom itself. Yet, at the heart of this exponential growth of capital in few hands, is still just a result of the greed within every human being on earth, a greed that is the worship of wealth, a worship that is threatening our species and perhaps all life. Thus, the battle for freedom is the battle for life to exist and flourish, including ourselves, and the health of our planet is at the core of this desire for freedom, and it is the main issue, because without it the game in which freedom is fought for dies. I believe that what we have to fight is the greed both in ourselves and in societies at large, and this means that the fight isn’t against either the rich or for the empowerment of the poor, which is what some mean by “freedom”, it is a fight against the demons of greed and oppression in ourselves as well as in society. The good fight is only had by love and inclusion of all life and all of us in it. We are in the grip of a runaway disease, and hate ain’t the answer, and freedom that isn’t about the flourishing of life on our planet is an empty vessel of excuses and hypocrisies. The growth of wealth via capital, wealth gained because of wealth, is the final stage of this disease, a disease of greed that is burning our planet and only love can stop this final stage, a stage which lesser goals of freedom (putting the earth on the back burner of issues) will never fix. Sound the liberty bells, bellow that we are a light on a shining hill, salute the flags that fly over us, and fight against ourselves (rich against poor, poor against the rich, nation against nation), and we will make a small hollow sound unheard by the rest of the universe, a whimper of utter defeat, a spectacle of children fighting over trinkets in the midst of a house on fire, and if any were to find our history by some miracle unlikely to occur, they would surely mourn for a top predator that never knew that breaking the game meant their own demise. (Unedited here, and not so lovely or appealing as your words were Maury, but in my necessarily limited view here, in run on sentences etc., I have given my small opinion, an expression of my freedom to partially disagree, and hopefully in an agreeable fashion.)

    1. The Reuters article leaves out France, perhaps because abolition in France was reversed.

      This needs explaining. Louis XVI decreed that “No person in France can be a slave.” When Sally Hemmings set foot on French soil with Thomas Jefferson, she was a free woman. She chose to return to Virginia, and enslavement, with him. She must have loved him very much.

      During the Revolution, the Directory gave black people civil rights in France, then emancipation in the colonies, and finally civil rights in the colonies, completing the strides toward liberation begun under the Bourbons. After Napoleon’s coup, he abolished all of this. France went backwards.

      I have read about Napoleone Buonaparte from the viewpoints of Leo Tolstoy, Francisco Goya, and Alex Dumas. They all concur: Napoleon was a bastard.

      (A good book to read is The Black Count by Tom Reiss. It is the story of General Alex Dumas, father to the novelist Alexandre Dumas pere, and grandfather to the playwright Alexandre Dumas fils. Alex Dumas was half Afro-Haitian / half French, half black / half white, and half slave / half noble (when being noble mattered). He became a general under Napoleon and was betrayed by him. The descriptions of slavery in Haiti (then called Saint-Domingue) are harrowing, even worse than in the Spanish or English colonies.)

  2. Earth on the Back Burner

    Favor issues over the planet that birthed us, and though we sound the liberty bells, bellow that we are a light on a shining hill, salute the flags that fly over us, and fight against ourselves for justice denied (rich against poor, poor against the rich, nation against nation), we will make a small hollow sound unheard by the rest of the universe, a whimper of utter defeat, a spectacle of children fighting over trinkets in the midst of a house on fire, and if any were to find our history by some miracle unlikely to occur, they would surely mourn for the top predators that never knew that breaking the game would lead to their own demise.

    David “Mitch” Sotelo (The full edit of my earlier wandering treatise was needed. See how much shorter it became? 😉 )

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