The freedom Jefferson called for was not universal, it was politically motivated and specific. Jefferson did not intend for someone like Frederick Douglass, a slave turned abolitionist leader, to be blessed with the same liberties as Jefferson declared for himself and his fellow Virginians in the preceding decades.
Douglass, speaking before the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York in 1852, gave voice to this contradiction. His speech underlined the “paradox of the positive,” explaining how the rhetoric of liberty had negative connotations for much of the population, specifically and most obviously, those who remained enslaved:
“Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Amercans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”
We are not obligated to carry around the baggage of the Founding Fathers, nor honor them out of a sense of tradition or heritage or blind nationalism. My lineage is separate and distinct from Jefferson and his contemporaries, and I know now that many of my friends and family would have been part of the disfavored minority of the time, just as we are today, although under different circumstances.
This Independence Day, instead of offering effusive praise for Jefferson and the Founding Fathers for laying the foundation of the modern American Empire, I would like to honor those individuals who keep the Spirit of ’76 alive, many of whom I call friends. These dissidents who undermine and resist the State daily truly seek independence and liberty in 2017 and beyond.
I celebrate in their honor today.
“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. 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. The sunlight that broug…