No, Jefferson Didn’t Want to End Slavery in the Declaration of Independence

XXXPaul FinkelmanIn his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson condemned the Crown in more forceful language, asserting that the king had “waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty” by perpetuating the African slave trade. Calling it “piratical warfare,” Jefferson asserted that “a CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain” was so “Determined to keep open a market where MEN” were bought and sold that he used his “negative” to suppress “every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.”

The Continental Congress removed Jefferson’s tirade from the Declaration, in part because it simply did not ring true. The colonists, for the most part, had been willing and eager purchasers of slaves. Nor is there any evidence that either Jefferson or any of the other leaders of Virginia had any interest in actually ending slavery. Virginia’s attempt to ban the trade was purely economic, and not based on any moral opposition to slavery. Similarly, the Crown’s refusal to allow them to limit or end the trade was economic.

—Paul Finkelman
The Abolition of the Slave Trade

4th of July: Peace, Love, and Understanding

Nick Lowe - Peace, Love, and UnderstandingIn 1978, Elvis Costello recorded the best known version of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding.” It’s a great version, there’s no question of that. But a lot of people are surprised to learn that he didn’t write it. This is because his version seems sarcastic. The song was written by Nick Lowe, a man certainly capable of great cynicism. But I think this song is really a self-indictment. It’s an honest question, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?”

When I was in graduate school, I lived with two Brits. I liked them both very much. I still do. They were fun people. But they had a very cynical view of the world and considered themselves very cool. In some ways, I thrived around them. It was knowing them and their incredible self-assuredness that got me to start my first underground newspaper and eventually led to me being a professional writer. But it also brought out a lot of bad things in me, especially being over-conscious of how people viewed me.

As any teenager can tell you, the easiest way to feel un-judged is to be cynical and to pretend that nothing really matters. And I think Nick Lowe suffered from that same thing as many creatively minded people do. So the song is kind of him slapping himself in the face. I know how that goes. I remember writing a song once told from one perspective and thinking that it was so unfair. So I wrote a song from the other perspective. The second song was better, because it was more thoughtful.

I think that America suffers from the same kind of insecurity. This is why we take up 48% of the world’s military spending. We just aren’t right with us. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Everything! It’s for weak people, suckers, or as Donald Trump would say, losers. But I want all the peace, love, and understanding that I can get.

The 4th of July always strikes me as the opposite of peace, love, and understanding. When I was kid, I liked the fireworks. They were colorful. But now they are all illegal. So people get illegal “fireworks” that are not pretty. They are just bombs — loud. And I hate loud sounds. They are the sounds of conflict, hatred, and intolerance. And that is what America is for me to a large extent. If Donald Trump becomes president, it will be a catastrophe, but it will also be fitting.

But on this 4th of July, I want to offer the hope that we can be better — that we won’t laugh at those who are kind. That being an “easy mark” is a sign of greatness, not stupidity. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Not a damned thing.

Morning Music: I Felt Like a Gringo

I Felt Like a GringoThe Fourth of July always makes me think of the Minutemen’s song “I Felt Like a Gringo.” It tells the (true) story of the band taking a day trip down to Mexico on 4 July 1982. It ends with the line, “Why’d I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?”

I guess that’s why I don’t much go in for this holiday. I feel like an outsider. I think that’s a lot of my desire to live in Mexico: if I must feel like an outsider, I might as well be one.

Anyway, “I Felt Like a Gringo” was first released on the EP, Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat. It was the first Minutemen album I bought. Less than three years later, D Boon would be dead in a tragic car accident, and one of the best bands ever was finished.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Got a ton of white boy guilt, that’s my problem,
Obstacle of joy, one reason to use some drugs.
Slept on a Mexican beach — slept in trash
American trash — thinking too much can ruin a good time.

I asked a Mexican who ran a bar for Americans
“Who won,” I said, “The election?”
He laughed, I felt like a gringo.
They played a song and they had some fun with us.

Why can’t you buy a good time?
Why are there soldiers in the street?

Why’d I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?