In Hypocrisy we Trust
America has presented itself as an example that all other nations would do well to emulate. Its history states that in the face of a tyrannical British monarchy, principled men fought a revolution to secure their freedom. This hard-won freedom was expressed in two great documents, The Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution. These documents are purported to be exemplary standards of freedom and democracy. This concept is so ingrained in the American psyche that many would regard any questioning of them to be at best unpatriotic and at worse treasonous. Is America a valid standard?
Let’s start with the first of the hallowed documents, The Declaration of Independence which was signed July 4, 1776. Many people can repeat its noble words from memory, “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.” We are aware that its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, like most southern gentlemen, was a slaveholder. However, his slaveholding is often seen as a normal part of the times and was not seen as being evil by people of the South. Although that is a common belief it is wrong. Read this portion from Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence as it criticizes King George for his support of slavery:
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
The American founding father clearly understood that slavery was evil. This did stop him from keeping a number of his wife’s siblings, his in-laws, as slaves. One of his wife half-sisters accompanied him to Paris when she was 14. Two years later when they returned to Virginia, she was pregnant by her brother-in-law, her master who was thirty years older than she. The words of the Declaration of Independence were actually penned by a prominent hypocrite.
What about the Constitution. Is this document that established the basis for the American government worthy of the esteem that it has been afforded? The Constitutional Convention had to craft a document that satisfied those members of smaller states who feared being outvoted by the states with larger populations. That is why every state gets two Senators but Congressmen are allocated based on population. One issue that arose was how to count slaves. If slaves were not human and mere property as many maintained, they should not be counted for purposes of representation. After all, only people should be counted. The South wanted to maintain categorizing slaves as property for purposes of economics but to count them as people for the purpose of Congressional representation. The three-fifths compromise counted the slaves as three-fifths or a person for the purpose of Congressional representation and electoral votes. As a result, the South got about a third more Congressmen and Electors than they would have had without counting slaves at all. Southerners who argued for slaves to be included in the Census knew that the people who they categorized as property were real people. They chose only to acknowledge the fact when it benefited them.
American coins carry the inscription, “In God we trust.” That is a nice sentiment but it definitely does not describe twenty-first century America. I maintain that it never described this country. From the very beginning, other considerations such as wealth and lust overruled our national trust in God. Although it would never appear on coins a truer statement about America’s trust would be, “In hypocrisy we trust.”