History 170C, MTWR – 11:15 A.M.-2:05 P.M.
July 24, 2014
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important written work of its period. However, the importance of the document lies not in the original intention for which it was created, to declare independence from Great Britain, but rather how future generations have interpreted Jefferson’s words. A speculative segment of the document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” had generated the most attention and controversy among the peoples of America. “All men,” was most definitely not the all-inclusive phrase that it means now in modern times. When Jefferson first stated the sentence in the Declaration of Independence, he meant to only refer to white, property-owning males. Had he literally meant ‘all men’, it would have been hard to justify the fact that a sizable percentage of the American population then were enslaved. And to add insult to injury, no consideration was given to women in the construction of the document, for women were not deemed to be on equal status with men in general in the social structure of the day. African-American slaves, women, and other inferior ethnic groups such as the Native Americans had to experience and endure the supremacy of well-endowed white males who dominated much of the early American society. The first appearance of black people in the American colonies was not technically the official start of slavery. The first Africans in North America, in fact, arrived to Jamestown, Virginia as indentured servants. It was not until the end of the 18th century when it became clear that slavery was exclusively based on the color of a person’s skin (Brands, et al. pg. 71). One of the initial struggle of a slave was retaining his cultural African identity, which had proven to be difficult due to little opportunities for the slaves “to develop creole languages or reaffirm a common African past” (Brands, et al. pg.72). The slaves, however, made the best out of their circumstances and merged aspects of African and European customs into what would be known as an African American identity. One example of this was their acceptance of Christianity, but with the addition an African element in which they expressed through music and folk art. The real challenge for the slaves, nevertheless, was attempt to push for change with hopes of abolishing slavery. One individual with such hopes during the time was Benjamin Banneker. Banneker wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, with the primary goal to address the issue of slavery and touched on the topic of racism. Banneker essentially pled Jefferson to use his influence as the Secretary of State at the time and push for the abolishment of slavery. He commented on Jefferson’s denouncement for slavery and the writing of the Declaration that proclaimed that all men were equal and possessed the same inalienable rights for they were of the same family, being children of God. The unfortunate this ordeal was that Jefferson could not have pushed for change even if he wanted to, which he did initially. The main reason of which was that slavery has made too much of an economical impact on the United States through plantations. Killing the bondage of African blacks meant eliminating a majority of the labor force on plantations, thus risking an economic crisis for the entire nation, a significant problem that was suffice to subdue those who were pushing to abolish slavery. Seeing that the end to slavery was not a possibility in the foreseeable future, slaves resisted white dominance in other ways. Revolts were rarely seen and practiced by a very few for the high odds against their success. Most slaves, usually those who were too forgone in the deep South or too reluctant to leave behind friends and family to run away, participated in subtle acts of defiance and protests, including inefficiency of labor (working