How were Thomas Jefferson's slaves treated
V. The content of the declaration of independence
The Declaration of Independence does not copy a particular model. The termination of power relationships according to the corporate legal traditions of continental Europe - z. B. the declaration of independence of the Netherlands by the Spanish King Philip II in 1581 - were logically comparable, but far removed from the situation of the Anglo-Americans, who separated from the motherland as colonists. In the consciousness of the Americans at present, however, was the end of the Glorious Revolution of the Whigs with the so-called Bill of Rights of 1689, in which the House of Lords and the House of Commons laid down the conditions under which they transferred the crown to William of Orange and his wife Mary. This Bill of Rights, passed as law, enumerated the king's violations of the laws and freedoms of the kingdom, noted his abdication (which he never pronounced) and then listed thirteen legal claims of the subjects, including the free, as part of the "old rights and freedoms" Election and frequent meetings of Parliament. This sober catalog of misdeeds and subject rights was not an ideological manifesto of the Whig Doctrine or the constitutional monarchy with parliamentary sovereignty.
The already cited declarations of principle of the Continental Congress of 1774 and 1775 and the declaration of fundamental rights of Virginia, however, contained several elements that Jefferson could use for the design of the content and form of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's intellectual and rhetorical achievement as the main author of the Declaration of Independence should therefore not be underestimated. On the contrary. It wasn't his job to win the competition of a learned academy with the most original essay possible. He should apply the political theory of the American Enlightenment and justify the decision of an entire nation, a decision with consequences of historical proportions and consequences for the lives and fortunes of those who signed up for an act which, on the one hand, was persecuted as high treason and on the other was praised as the founding of the state. The declaration was therefore addressed both to the king and the members of parliament (even if they are not mentioned by name) as well as to the resisting colonists, in particular to the soldiers who fought in the militias of their colonies and in improvised uniforms in the Washington army Had to be clear about friend and foe, patriot and tory. The declaration could not take into account the third addressee, the absolute monarch of France, whose military aid it was supposed to accelerate, but whose system of rule it completely contradicted.
How convincing Jefferson had formulated for the others is shown by the minor changes in content. The four other committee members only made editorial changes, as far as this draft stage is understandable. The plenary cut 630 words and added 146, bringing the text to 1,322 words. In terms of content, only the deletion of one charge was significant: the toleration of the slave trade. The other 84 changes made by the plenary were essentially stylistic improvements and streamlining of the arguments.
The headline avoided the term independence, which was perhaps perceived as unnecessarily provocative. The new formula from the United States emphasized the commonality and unity of the action of the insurgent colonies. The individual colonies did not declare their independence one after the other, depending on when the rebels came to power in the respective capital. Rather, as soon as the wing opting for the radical solution had won the majority, the revolutionary individual state conventions instructed their delegates in the continental congress to vote for a joint declaration of independence. The advocates of the colonists' interests had known since the successful opposition to the stamp tax in 1765/66 that they were only strong together.
The preamble states the purpose of the declaration in one sentence, just as the preamble of an English legal text announced the abandonment of the law. The ingenious prelude already contains tacitly made prerequisites that actually have to be proven: that the Americans are "one people" and that, according to the will of God and nature, they are on a par with other states, such as Great Britain. As the foundation of this claim, old English rights are no longer invoked, but the highest source of legitimation of the Enlightenment, "the laws of nature". Locke had articulated the idea of the English Whigs around 1689 in the Second Treatise of Government: "The state of nature is governed by a law, natural law; it binds everyone, and reason, which is this natural law, teaches all men, if only reason ask that no one should harm another's life, health, freedom or property because they are equal and independent. "
The Tory justification of the monarchy as willed by God and legitimized by historical development, which opposes this Whig idea and is dominant in continental Europe, tried to neutralize Jefferson and the Congress by the deistic definition of God as manifesting himself through nature, so that there could be no contradiction between the laws of nature and the will of "God of nature".
The second part of the text explains the fundamental rights of the citizens of a free state. These two sentences did not create a legally enforceable right. Nonetheless, they became the political creed of the American Republic because they named the norms of legitimate rule that British colonial rule had violated and which the new political order was to protect. "Life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness" have been at the heart of liberal individualism and treaty thinking in Anglo-American Whigs' political philosophy since 1688. Happiness meant well-being and contentment. A secure life in freedom, that was an indisputable part of the social theory of all Whigs, was not possible without the acquisition and inviolability of property. The Virginia Bill of Rights had clearly stated this as a matter of course three weeks earlier when, in its first article, cited above, it linked the enjoyment of life and freedom with "the means to acquire and keep property and to achieve happiness and security."
The description of these rights as "inalienable" meant in Whigs parlance that no circumstances justified the disregard of these rights, not even emigration from England to a colony. According to Locke, the thought experiment of the social contract left these basic rights to those who voluntarily entered the state of society from the natural state as the foundation of his claims to the government, whose monopoly of force he helped to create by renouncing the use of force himself. Only law and justice, not mere government, could restrict these basic rights for the good of the whole. "Human dignity is inviolable," is a later expression of this basic idea of the liberalism of the 17th and 18th centuries, which is based on the social contract doctrine and individualism.
The equality postulate in the Declaration of Independence referred to the equal right of participation of all citizens regardless of their place of residence in the mother country or in the colonies. Without the postulate of equality, a basic assumption of the political theory of the American Revolution would have been missing: all citizens had to be equally free. The only controversial issue was who should belong to the group of citizens entitled to co-determination. When Jefferson wrote, "All men are created equal and free," he had 175 slaves. Nevertheless, his behavior and that of the other politicians of the founding period should not be dismissed as hypocrisy. Jefferson and many of his contemporaries were aware of the contradiction between enslavement of most Africans and the liberation of Euro-Americans, and the public discussion of the release of slaves had not ceased since 1776. The inequality of treatment of women was also discussed - at first privately and with no prospect of public discussion - as early as 1776, when the delegate John Adams was asked by his wife Abigail, before his departure from Philadelphia, "that you think of women and treat them more generously than your ancestors did, when you soon have to make new laws. Do not give husbands such unlimited power over women! "
In the decades of public discussion about just government, the consent of the governed was probably the most frequently used formula. Everyone knew that this did not mean Greek marketplace democracy, but participation in the election of representatives. This central and well-known term made the use of democratic and republican in the Declaration of Independence superfluous. In the case of a lasting violation of its tasks, the government or the form of government government means both here and the translation only with "government" is misleading - can be abolished or changed, but only by the "people". The declaration of independence did not proclaim an individual right to resist.
The third and most extensive part of the text are the 18 points of the indictment against the king, each of which names one or more actions and begins rhetorically effectively with "He has ...". The total of 28 offenses do not mark a murderous ruler, but a neglected and word-breaking trustee. A "tyrant" in Whigs parlance was a monarch who failed to perform his constitutional duties, harmed the welfare of his subjects, and disregarded the powers of other constitutional organs.
That is why the register of sins contained charges that, even in retrospect, did not appear serious, such as the royal governor's convening of the Massachusetts House of Representatives "in unusual, inconvenient places remote from ... public archives". The lawsuit over the Quebec Act of 1774 was directed against two decisions of the Privy Council that were disadvantageous to the Yankees about the size and powers of self-government of this colony, which was not part of the resistance coalition. The Border Act of 1763 had extended Quebec's southern border west of the Appalachians to the Ohio. The outrage was directed at the aforementioned move by the Privy Council to leave the Catholic French Canadians their culture, church and jurisdiction, or in other words, to withhold "the free system of English laws" from them - which those affected certainly did not judge as tyrannical oppression.
The penultimate count in Jefferson's draft, the toleration of the slave trade, was removed by Congress. Franklin, Adams, and the other committee members had approved it. The two deleted sentences and the strongly ruffled following mark the boundary to the language of propaganda, which the plenary did not want to cross, Jefferson had suggested;
He waged a cruel war on human nature itself and violated the most sacred rights to life and liberty of those of a distant people, who never offended him, by capturing them and taking them as slaves to another hemisphere or transporting them there left a miserable death to die. This pirate warfare, the shame and disgrace of pagan powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. In his determination to operate a market where people are bought and sold, he has used his veto to suppress any attempt to legally prohibit or restrict this nefarious trade.
There are no minutes of the debate on the Declaration of Independence, only Jefferson's subsequent notes, which say that the plantation owners of the southern states, especially South Carolina and Georgia, who, unlike Virginia, wanted to import even more enslaved workers as cheaply as possible, and those who made money on the slave transport Northern shipowners found the mention of the subject uncomfortable. Perhaps the propaganda distortion of their own responsibility for the development of slavery in the English mainland colonies since 1619 went too far.
Congress adopted the second part of the slavery charge in abbreviated form. Jefferson wanted to reproach the king: "He is now inciting these people [ie the slaves] to take up arms against us and to buy the freedom he has stolen from them by killing those on whom he has forced them; so he wants to settle previous crimes against the freedoms of one people with crimes that he encourages them to commit against another. " This tormented phrase referred to the declaration of martial law by the Military Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, on November 7, 1775, promising freedom to slaves who joined the Royal Army. Congress adopted the allegation in the more honest short version: "He has called for civil unrest and uprisings among us," and linked it to outrage over the use of Indian troops.
Congress also constructed an abdication of the king, as the House of Lords and Commons had done in the English Bill of Rights 1689. He interpreted the proclamation of the state of rebellion on August 23, 1775 as the king's resignation from his office in the rebellious colonies.
In the fourth part of the text, Congress asserts that the former colonists, as loyal subjects, initially sought remedy through petitions. Instead of an anti-monarchical, pro-republican declaration of principle in the spirit of Thomas Paine, the indictment is only followed by the verdict on George III: "A prince whose character bears so much every feature that distinguishes a tyrant is incapable of ruling a free people be. " The British subjects, "our British brothers", are also reminded of their joint responsibility for the presumptuous claim of their parliament to rule over the colonies.
The fifth part draws the end and repeats the core sentence of the independence decision of July 2nd, with the addition: "that as Freye and independent states they have full power and authority to wage war, make peace, make alliances, and establish action [that is, to trade] and to do anything and everything else that is legally due to Independent States. " In the last sentence the delegates conclude a kind of social contract for the establishment of the nation: "In order to assert and support this declaration, we pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred word of honor to one another, with firm trust in the protection of Divine Providence."
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