Comedian Chris Rock is taking flak for posting the following tweet on the 4th of July. "Happy white people independence day. the slaves weren't free but I'm sure they enjoyed fireworks." Probably the brunt of the blowback is coming from those "originalist" Republicans. But the fact is the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was only approved after all mention of slavery was excised.
In 1776 slavery was legal in every one of the original 13 colonies. There were approximately 300,000 slaves. Mostly on plantations in the South. In 1770, black slaves outnumbered whites in South Carolina alone. In the North, Vermont was the first colony to ban slavery---in 1777. New York didn't until 1799 when John Adams was president.
Speaking of Mr. Adams, he was, if you recall, on the committee that worked on the Declaration---Jefferson being the real author. In the list of grievances against King George III, Jefferson had included: "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere." It was this 'slave clause' that the proponents of human freedom---Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin--- had to surrender in order to gain the support of the Southern colonies for the Declaration.
In the musical play, 1776, there is a scene that still seems to resonate in our own time. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina takes on Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in defense of slavery.
Rutledge: To us in South Carolina, black slavery is our peculiar institution and a cherished way of life.
Jefferson: Nevertheless, we must abolish it. Nothing is more certainly written in the Book of Fate than that this people shall be free.
Rutledge: I am not concerned with the Book of Fate right now, sir. I am more concerned with what's written in your little paper there.
Adams: That 'little paper there' deals with freedom for Americans.
Rutledge: Oh, really! Mr. Adams is now callin' our black slaves Americans. Are-they-now?
Adams: They are! They're people and they're here---if there is any other requirement, I've never heard it.
Rutledge: They are here, yes, but they are not people, sir, they are property.
Jefferson: No, sir! they are people who are being treated as property. I tell you the rights of human nature are deeply wounded by this infamous practice!
Rutledge(shouting): Then see to your own wounds, Mr. Jefferson, for you are a ---practitioner, are you not?
Jefferson: I have already resolved to release my slaves.
Rutledge: Than I'm sorry, for you have also resolved the ruination of your personal economy.
Adams: Economy. Always economy. There's more to this than a filthy purse-string, Rutledge, It's an offense against man and God.
An offense that would only be redressed by a great civil war and by the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. But the wounds of slavery have festered ever since. And the charity that Lincoln exhorted upon posterity, almost 150 years ago, has still not prevailed. The legitimacy of our first black president has been a principal theme of his Republican opponents. They question his citizenship, his religion, his academic props, his integrity, his veracity, his patriotism. The attacks are intemperate, unrelenting, and intransigent. They call him a liar, a socialist, a communist. With an ugly partisanship that may only be paralleled by the bitter antebellum confrontations in Congress and across the land.
Can you blame Chris Rock for his tweet? I know I don't.