The Hypocrisy of Freedom

       These most famous words, are the basis of our nation, they ring true with a passion heard almost no where else and they still are not equal to all. These most powerful words are:

The presentation of the Declaration of IndependenceTrumbull, John. Deceleration of Independence. 1817. Oil painting. N.p.

The presentation of the Declaration of Independence
Trumbull, John. Deceleration of Independence.
1817. Oil painting. N.p.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” -The Declaration of Independence

However the meaning that the founding fathers put into this document is not the meaning that remains today. Their idea of equality was not the same as the modern one that has become popular sentiment. This hypocrisy was not limited to the Declaration of Independence. For to these powerful white men these ideas were representations of their moral rights and liberties; for everyone else these were not rights, nor liberties, but further exclusions from equality.

        The most evident sources of hypocrisy comes from the Declaration of Independence. One specific example is “ that all men are created equal,” (Declaration of Independence). This is hypocritical because the founding fathers almost all owned slaves, especially Jefferson who “drafted” (Maier 184) this historic work of literature. The expression that “all men are created equal” is contrary to almost every single value of the institution of slavery. This is because the only way slavery can be maintained is by one group being constantly below another, in this case based on race. A majority of the founding fathers owned slaves and yet one of the most famous phrases ever penned is “all men are created equal” (The Declaration of Independence).

        A slightly less common example is that slaves did not consent to being slaves, or as the founding fathers phrased their own refusal to be “slaves” to Britain, government “[derives] their just powers from the consent of the governed” (The Declaration of Independence). Slaves are “governed” by their masters without their consent, which is another case of slaves being excluded from the rights that are supposed to be for all men.

        Another occurrence of supreme hypocrisy comes from the belief “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers”  (The Declaration of Independence). The founding fathers expressly state that they have the right to destroy government and start over, and yet African Americans can not overthrow their owners who are more restrictive than any government of the time could ever attempt to be. The slaves and former slaves are expected to

         The second most evident occurrence is for the speech given at Saint John’s church by Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775). That he had the audacity to compare British rule to slavery and he was willing to die in order to be free of the King’s rule, and yet he himself owned slaves. As one of the major fears of Virginians of the time was a slave uprising; their view of themselves as slaves rising up against unjust masters is the highest form of irony and hypocrisy that can be imagined. Not only did they have substantially more freedom than any actual slave would possess, but they could not be bought, sold, separated from their families against their will, or beaten on anothers whim. They were free just not free enough.

This is the most famous painting of Patrick Henry.Matthews, George B., and Thomas Sully. Patrick Henry. 1891. Oil on canvas. United States Senate. Web.

This is the most famous painting of Patrick Henry.
Matthews, George B., and Thomas Sully. Patrick Henry.
1891. Oil on canvas. United States Senate. Web.

       The phrase, “give me liberty or give me death” (Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775) was said intending to refer to refer to the American struggle against the British, yet the words apply just as well if not better to the plight of the enslaved African Americans. These words inspired patriots to fight for their right to start a new country. They also could mean not for Americans to rise against the British, but for slaves to rise against their masters. It could actually be considered a small miracle that this speech did not cause widespread slave uprisings.

         All this is not to say that the founding fathers were not great people who ought to be remembered. Instead this is to say that their greatness should be taken with a grain of salt (or possibly a bag of salt). They truly did found our nation and without them who knows where we would be. This does not mean that their racist beliefs and the hypocrisy regarding the ideals of freedom should be overlooked. To the contrary, their very flaws are what makes them human. Even though today slavery is considered horrible (and rightly so) at the time it was virtually impossible to be upper class without a free labor force that can not quit. As the time period’s standards dictated that owning another human being was fine because those of African descent were viewed as inferior to those of european descent. This was not right, some of the founding fathers admitted that they felt it was wrong and yet economically there was no viable alternative. While they wrote and said all their lofty ideals they were disenfranchising a majority of the population by not giving them the same rights and liberties that they themselves were fighting for.This disenfranchisement is the great hypocrisy that polluted the ideals of the founding fathers.

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