US: The 4th of July and its Slavery Nature

By Ángel Guerra Cabrera on July 9, 2020.

Mural in Oakland California, Photo: Bill Hackwell

The popular rebellion unleashed in the United States by the assassination of George Floyd has updated the debate on the origins and history of racism in that country and its impact on the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. It also shines a light on the structural influence of racism on the state that emerged then and the effect it has on the daily lives of Black and Native peoples from that date to the present time. Historical and sociological evidence shows that the United States will only be saved as a state entity if it is possible for whites, blacks, native peoples, Latinos and other minorities to live together in peace and brotherhood.

This requires that it settle accounts with its history and recognize the viruses of white supremacy, racism, territorial expansion and wars of predation, embedded into its DNA since its foundation.

Researcher Paul Street stresses that renowned historian Gerald Horne identifies slave labor as the main source of capitalist accumulation in the 13 colonies and in the pre-independence national proto-economy. Horne evokes this eloquent and rarely quoted paragraph taken from the part listing of the complaints against the actions of King George: “He has provoked insurrections among us (he was referring to the frequent and sometimes bloody slave uprisings in the 13 colonies) and has endeavored to cast upon the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless savage Indians, whose known disposition for war is a force of destruction that does not distinguish between age, sex or condition.”

Horne suggests in his book The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America (New York, 2014), that the above quote “reflects a central counterrevolutionary motivation behind the fateful decision to break with England: the sense that the system of slavery on which America’s fortunes depended could not survive except by secession from the British Empire.

In connection with this idea he cites three main triggers of the American anti-colonial explosion. One, the royal proclamation of 1763 that put a limit to the territorial expansion of the colonists in the continent, which implied a brake on their uncontrollable greed for new fertile lands to cultivate with the slave labor of Black people. Two, the 1772 ruling by British judge William Murray Mansfield, who considered slavery contrary to English Common Law and who since then has hung as a sword of Damocles over the enormously productive New England trading complex and the class of landowners that emerged in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. And three, the offer by Lord Dunmore, the English governor of Virginia, to free and arm the slaves of North America to crush the anti-colonial rebellion that has been going on since the Tea Act of 1773. According to Horne, with this action Dunmore “entered into a pre-existing maelstrom [among the colonists] of colonial insecurity about slavery and London’s intentions.”

In the spring of 1775, the elite colonists were consumed by fear of an insurrection by slaves allied with the British, Spanish, and/or Native Americans, Street says.  Justice Murray’s ruling and Dunmore’s edict inextricably linked London with the abolition of slavery in the minds of the white settlers.

While in the early decades of the slave trade two-thirds of the 10 to 16 million slaves who survived the brutal journey from Africa lived in the West Indies and Brazil, by 1860 that same proportion lived in the southern United States, where the incessant demand for cotton from the English textile industry demanded more slave arms than any other economic activity.

Horne puts the problem of the American Revolution in these terms: “There is a dilemma between the supposed progressive and import vanguard [of ideas] of 1776 and the worsening conditions of Africans and Indians that followed the triumph of the rebels. On the other hand, despite the supposed revolutionary and progressive impulse of 1776, the victors went from that point to crush indigenous policies, then moved abroad to do something similar in Hawaii, Cuba and the Philippines, and then unleashed their counter-revolutionary force in the 20th century in Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Angola, South Africa, Iran, Grenada, Nicaragua and other devastated places too numerous to mention.”

Donald Trump, in his launch of the 2020 election campaign on Mount Rushmore, accused the new popular rebellion of wanting to change history. The truth is that this has been written in line with the interests of the ruling class and what is required is a history “of the people of the United States,” as the unforgettable Howard Zinn called it.

Source: La Pupila Insomne, translation, Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau