America’s elusive standard
Independence Day is not always well received in the black community. It is an annual event that induces African Americans to assess once again their status in the nation. While the circumstances for blacks have greatly improved since Frederick Douglass’ historic speech in 1841, the recent celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion will make this 4th of July especially poignant.
When Douglass spoke, the nation still permitted slavery. He said to those celebrating their freedom from England’s tyranny, “The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”
Nonetheless, the inspiring and profound language of the Declaration of Independence belongs to us all in perpetuity. It states in part, “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.”
This language, published on July 4, 1776, helped launch the United States of America, and those words have inspired other nations, none of which have been able to comply fully with its precepts. However, that language became the first part of the Massachusetts Constitution that was ratified in 1780. In reliance on that provision, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts outlawed slavery in 1783. That was four years before the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787.
While slavery was permitted in Massachusetts under the British colonial authority, it has always been unlawful to enslave a state resident once the Republic was established. Travelers from other states could transit through Massachusetts with a slave in their possession, but they could not take up residence.
Of course, the absence of slavery does not mean that racial discrimination has been vanquished. Celebration of the Fourth of July should inspire everyone to understand that a prosperous and productive America requires that all able bodied citizens develop their talents for us to maintain a most talented national workforce. Adherence to that principle is a sophisticated element of valid patriotism.