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Three Critical Inflection Points of American Racial History

By       Message Herbert Calhoun     Permalink
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Three Critical Inflection Points of American Racial History

Inflection Point # 1:

As the Revolutionary War began, the British offered the slaves freedom and citizenship in return for fighting against the Colonial Settler's rebellion. But what did our slave owning founding fathers (men who were busily working their slaves to death at the same time that they were peddling the rhetoric of freedom), offer their own slaves?

Understandably, the British offer of automatic freedom and citizenship in return for fighting against the Settler's, actually proved to be an extremely uncomfortable fait accompli for our founding fathers, who responded not in the way that one would expect true freedom-loving men to respond. These august men, that we now so revere in our history books, and as our national heroes, acted like moral cowards and complete moral hypocrites, actually trying to hide from having to grant freedom to others sharing this land.

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The only sensible and defensible moral response, the one most often recorded in the history books is that offered by the son of the iconic patriot, Patrick Henry. In essence it was the expected response: to match the British offer to the slaves, word for word.

Jack Rakove, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book "Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, tells us just what our founding fathers actually did when confronted with the British offer of freedom and citizenship to every American black slave who would join them and fight against the rebellion. Some 200,000 of whom actually did join the British ranks.

In discussions between the famous colonial patriot Patrick Henry and his son Jack, appearing on pages 238-239 of Rakove's book, Jack argued for granting slaves their full freedom and citizenship just as their enemies the British were prepared to do. And while this seemed like a "no brainer, his father, one of the most revered and iconic of American patriots, averred nay. And several days later, the best proposal the Continental Congress could come up with was one made by the very architect of the Constitution himself, the Virginian, James Madison. Madison suggested that instead of granting slaves their freedom, that "white soldiers be drawn from the lower ranks and made slaveholders" -- presumably so that they too would then be vested in the plantation slavetocracy and would fight for the planter's cause. And moreover, so that their slaves could then do as was later done in the south in the Civil War -- instead of being allowed to fight, the slaves would be left to tend the farms back home, while the white boys went off to fight the British in order to gain their "white only" freedom?

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But would you believe it, the Continental Congress rejected even Madison's weak idea -- as well as all others that suggested either freeing slaves who fought on the Colonial side, or making them citizens afterwards?

Thus, here for the first time in American history, was an instance in which our founding fathers clearly forfeited an opportunity to side with the true cause of freedom (hypocritically used repeatedly in their rhetoric and still being used in the same insincere way today by conservatives and libetarians), and to do so in the clear moral clarity and light of day that was unambiguous. Had they done as Jack Henry suggested, the arc of history, as Dr. King has suggested, would surely have bent in the direction of freedom and justice, and race relations in America would surely have been better than they are today.

The question posed above is thus a rhetorical one that answers itself. These white men of the gentry, who all had at once seemed to want nothing more than to be "pretend moral British Gentlemen," when they actually got their chance to do so, and on their own turf of "freedom from slavery," ran away from, and defected from, their own rhetoric of freedom. That is to say, they came up empty, exposing themselves as colossal moral frauds. They were only pretending to be about freedom, just as Professor Gerald Horne of the University of Houston has said about them in his book "The Counter-Revolution of 1776."

Now finally, the full truth can be told, thus the quest ends: Our slaveholding founding fathers, were only interested in a very special, a very peculiar, and a very tainted and diminished form of freedom: a negative form exclusively reserved for the "freedom of white settlers only;" the same kind that we more or less are still living under today, and that sadly is still the mantra of conservatives and libertarians all across the contemporary American political landscape.

And having seen the stark truth, it is thus easy to see how this deeply immoral and deeply hypocritical position by our morally compromised founding fathers, not only undermined the "so-called" American Revolution, but also poisoned the well for American morality, humanity and race relations for the rest of our nation's social evolution.

Inflection Point # 2:

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A second chance to confront freedom for everyone during the Civil War

In a book of articles edited by Gabor S. Boritt, called "Why the Confederacy Lost," in which all presenters agreed that the outcome of the war was in serious doubt up until the very end, I find the fifth article by Joseph T. Glatthaar's entitled, "Black Glory: The African-American Role in the Union Victory," to be the most convincing of the lot. Glatthaar tells us that on the eve of Lincoln's preparation to run for his second term, our 16th president, feared he would lose the election because many voters would correctly interpret the battlefield stalemate as exactly what it was: a very likely emerging defeat for the Union Army.

As brilliant a Machiavellian political thinker and lawyer as Lincoln undoubtedly was, until the bitter end of the Civil War, his racist animus towards blacks trumped his very astute and subtle political judgment. It took general disgruntlement about the failure of the war, a precipitous drop in recruitment, and the stern advice of his most racist General, to convince him that he had but one arrow left in his quiver: if the war was to be won, and thus save his re-election chances in the process, he needed to adroitly play his only remaining hole-card: enlisting the more than one half million black men into the Union army on the side of the Union cause. It was the same advice Frederick Douglass had given him many times, but which Lincoln had consistently rejected.

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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
 

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