A guy I knew from high school (he’s a conservative pro gun type person) posted a picture of Patrick Henry and his famous saying “Give me liberty or give me death!” and I said “Except for the 78 slaves I own” and he got pissed off and said “And they said conservatives live in the past” I gave him a bit of a speech about how knowing your history isn’t the same as living it. He then claimed that I didn’t care about liberty and was insulting it. (WTF? Dumb ass) In fact, remembering the truth helps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If we remember we’ll decide slavery is shitty, share in the guilt as a people and make sure it never happens again. So here is my thing about the founding and many of the presidents that are so revered.
#1 Demi-god Status.
They’ve achieved a nearly demi-god status in American history. When I was in school we didn’t learn anything bad about them. We learned they were freedom fighters. If they had lost they would have been called traitors and maybe even terrorists because of what the patriots did to some loyalists. Tarred and Feathered as an example and worse. Of course, we can’t blame George Washington and the others for what some sadistic assholes did but it remains a dark mark on their side. In war there is rarely the good guys and bad guys. Not all the British soldiers and subjects were bad people and yet they are vilified in American history books. The Americans weren’t “the good guys” they were the guys that won. If you don’t believe me about the demi-god status look at these monuments. Gorgeous aren’t they? The Lincoln Memorial looks a bit like a ancient Greek temple, doesn’t it? The obelisk (clearly phallic) is one of the free mason symbols (which George Washington was a member of) but to the ancient Egyptians it was thought to represent the sun god Ra. Interesting, isn’t it?
Okay, before I get into this I am NOT saying they are bad people. I believe they are products of their environment just like we are. However, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that liberty doesn’t mean just white land owners. In the years before the revolutionary war there were at least 40,000 free African Americans. Free African Americans found themselves striding the middle ground between slave and white land owner. Some free African Americans owned property though and there were quite a few African American patriots as well. In one French regiment it is estimated that at least one quarter of the soldiers were African American. After the revolutionary war was won many of the loyalists departed the colonies with their slaves. Many of the African descendants in Jamaica are descendants of loyalist-owned slaves.
Many of the founding fathers and other presidents had slaves. Here is a short list.
Twelve of our presidents owned slaves and eight of them owned slaves while serving as president.
George Washington: Owned more than 200 slaves. He ordered them free after the death of himself and Martha, but who cares? He was done with them. Allegedly he, at least, was aware of the irony and felt uncomfortable about owning them.
Thomas Jefferson: Owned more than 100 slaves. It’s also a well known fact that he had sex with slave women and because they wouldn’t have had a choice in the matter you could consider it rape.
James Madison: owned and sold slaves all his life!
James Monroe: owned 30-40 slaves
Andrew Jackson: owned about 160 slaves
Martin Van Buren: owned at least one slave
William Henry Harrison: had several slaves
John Tyler: had slaves (not sure about the number)
James K. Polk: had 15 slaves
Zachary Taylor: owned more than 100 slaves. Last president to own slaves while in office.
Andrew Johnson: owned 8 slaves
Ulysses S. Grant: freed his slaves, (before office) but hell, he still has a history of owning other human beings.
**EDIT** Benjamin Franklin (not a president but a founding father) was against slaves but owned at least two. John Quincy Adams also opposed slavery.
**EDIT** It is also worth mentioning that Ben Franklin blamed the British for slavery which has a few kernels of truth but the continuation of slavery makes it a moot point. Allegedly, Jefferson, who had A LOT of slaves was actually anti-slavery and pushed for the abolishment of the international slave trade and the gradual emancipation of Virginia and (apparently) almost succeeded. Why didn’t he free his slaves then? Did he view himself as a protector so they didn’t end up with cruel masters? It’s a nice thought, but I personally don’t believe it.
Again, not saying they weren’t great men. These men worked hard to form a powerful country. They gave their all to make sure that those they viewed as under oppression were give their freedom. It’s a shame they didn’t think a little harder about who else was being oppressed. Perhaps due to culture and the times it was an oversight. A very ironic one. My problem with American history is that they cover up the truth in order to inspire loyalty to our country. I learned about slavery in about the second or third grade and they never once talked about our beloved presidents owning other people. I want to say “no one’s perfect”, but that leaves an ashy taste in my mouth. It’s not the right thing to say. You say that about someone who makes minor mistakes. Not about people who owned another human being(s)
Guys, just like most countries in the world, it was built on the backs of slaves. The difference between the US and all the rest is that we did it in the 18th century. It’s also ironic as shit since we all have a hard-on for freedom. The love of liberty is apparently deeply interwoven in our culture…or is it? Why, in the 2013, are we still arguing for gay rights; for the rights of women to have control of their own bodies? Why do women still making less than men? Why does affirmative action even need to exist? If we’re so gung-ho on freedom then why does the government still want to deny the civil rights of others? I know, I know, it’s more complex than that. Senators that want some freedoms given to people get sandbagged by senators that oppose it. It’s ironic that two presidents that pushed for civil rights/freedom of African Americans were assassinated. It’s also worth mentioning that Lincoln privately opposed slavery but viewed it more as an economic issue than a human right’s issue.
#3 Native Americans
In 1779, George Washington instructed Major General John Sullivan to attack Iroquois people. Washington stated, “lay waste all the settlements around…that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed”. In the course of the carnage and annihilation of Indian people, Washington also instructed his general not “listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected”. (Stannard, David E. AMERICAN HOLOCAUST. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. pp. 118-121.)
In 1807, Thomas Jefferson instructed his War Department that, should any Indians resist against America stealing Indian lands, the Indian resistance must be met with “the hatchet”. Jefferson continued, “And…if ever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, ” he wrote, “we will never lay it down till that tribe is exterminated, or is driven beyond the Mississippi.” Jefferson, the slave owner, continued, “in war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them”. (Ibid)
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the execution, by hanging, of 38 Dakota Sioux prisoners in Mankato, Minnesota. Most of those executed were holy men or political leaders of their camps. None of them were responsible for committing the crimes they were accused of. Coined as the Largest Mass Execution in U.S. History. (Brown, Dee. BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1970. pp. 59-61)
The fourth face you see on that “Stony Mountain” is America’s first twentieth century president, alleged American hero, and Nobel peace prize recipient, Theodore Roosevelt. This Indian fighter firmly grasped the notion of Manifest Destiny saying that America’s extermination of the Indians and thefts our their lands “was ultimately beneficial as it was inevitable”. Roosevelt once said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth”. (Stannard, Op.Cit.)
(Do I even need to point out that this was carved into a sacred mountain? Look at it before the carving? It clearly has something special about it. It’s very majestic looking.This mountain and the land around it was seized by the US after the Lakota lost the Great Sioux War)
So, do we deserve to be proud of our history? Of course, there are some things we can be proud of and I also feel the need to say that presidents…rulers in general…are often forced to do things as a leader that they may not otherwise do. They may personally disagree with it but do it anyway. I wouldn’t want to be a president/royal/prime minister…whatever.
Being proud of my nationality is an issue I’ve struggled with for years. For quite awhile I’ve wished that my family were still Irish-Irish so this wouldn’t be my history. Ireland is far from perfect, of course. If I lived there I’d be bitching about abortion being illegal. My Irish ancestors came over during the potato famine and during the Civil War and served on the Union side.
These subjects make me feel guilty for being a white American even though I had nothing to do with any of it and my family had nothing to do with it.
In fact, my family, as far back as we can trace it (1400s on one side, 1600s on the other) have had good relations with the Native American people. I’m a direct descendant of Governor Bradford and until my grandfather’s messy divorce in the 1970s he had articles belonging to Bradford but had them snatched away from him by his bitch of an ex wife. My mother would have inherited those and she would have donated them to the Smithsonian. Forever lost to history. Deborah Sampson is also a direct descendant through the Bradford line and disguised herself as a man to fight during the revolutionary war. I can be proud of those two. My great grandfather on my maternal grandfather’s side was a doctor and gave free care to Native Americans. He did this despite the fact that his great grandmother’s family was massacred by the Shawnee (mother, father, and an infant brother) and kidnapped as a sort of “PoW” custom that traditionally was used to replace lost tribesmen. (Some of the PoWs went on to become a sort of honorary member of the tribe. She lived with them and claimed to have played with Tecumseh as a child before leaving at age 18 to go back to her “own kind”) I mean, she could have easily passed down a hatred of the Shawnee tribe but didn’t. She gained a unique insight to say the least.
I need to leave soon so I’ll end this abruptly.
Is the “grandfather clause” real? Should I feel guilty even if I had nothing to do with it? The obvious answer seems to be no…and yet…
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