A Context for the 4th of July
“…others may put forth their strength to blast the blossoms of liberty it is for us to mature them into fruits.”
Charleston Mercury, July 4, 1822
This line from an editorial two-hundred years ago expresses a feeling that in the context of 2022 causes some people to cry hypocrisy! How can they talk about liberty in Charleston where slavery was ubiquitous? On the surface, it is a fair question.
We often forget about the context of the rest of the world in 1776, 1787, and even 1822. The United States government was unique in 1822. That heredity played no role in the selection of the head of state was without precedent. While there were some democratic looking features in the British, French, and other governments, most of the power resided with the monarchy.
The power or rights people had outside of the United States were ceded by the monarch. In the United States, rights originated with individuals, and they lent power to the government for the common good. It is this notion of liberty and self-government they were celebrating in 1822.
It is hard to imagine how commonplace slavery was in 1822. It was only the richest and most powerful countries in the world that had the luxury of calling for its end. In the United States, the legal importation of slaves ended 14 years earlier and the U.S. Navy actively policed the slave trade off the West coast of Africa. There were still slaves in Northern states and in the South a society and a way of life that included slavery had formed over more than 200 years.
The evil institution ended in the United States after a bloody civil war. A war where both sides have a legitimate claim to have been fighting for the founding principles, including freedom of individuals to have a say in how they are governed based on rights they inherently possess, not rights conferred by a monarch.