by Berthony Dupont (Haiti Liberte)
This week, the United States of America will celebrate the 238th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence. “On July 4th, 1776, a small band of patriots declared that we were a people created equal, free to think and worship and live as we please, that our destiny would not be determined for us, it would be determined by us,” said U.S. President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony last year. “At that time in human history, it was kings and princes and emperors who made decisions. But those patriots knew there was a better way of doing things, that freedom was possible, and that to achieve their freedom, they’d be willing to lay down their lives, their fortune and their honor. And so they fought a revolution.”
This is the misleading version of United States history that every American school-child learns. But this myth has been exploded by historian Gerald Horne with his new book “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America,” published two months ago by New York University Press.
“We should understand that July 4th, 1776, in many ways, represents a counterrevolution,” Dr. Horne explained in an interview about the book on Jun. 27 with the program Democracy Now. “That is to say that what helped to prompt July 4th, 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition. This perception was prompted by the ‘Somerset’s case,’ a case decided in London in June 1772 which seemed to suggest that abolition, which was going to be ratified in London itself, was going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the [North American] mainland, thereby jeopardizing numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade.”
It has often been noted that the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” demanded by the slave-owner and principal Declaration of Independence drafter Thomas Jefferson did not extend to the 500,000 African slaves who made up about 20% of the 2.5 million people inhabiting the 13 break-away colonies. It did not apply to women either.
But Dr. Horne’s book illustrates how this exclusion was not the result of simple oversight or opportunist hypocrisy. “1776 can fairly be said to have eventuated as a counter-revolution of slavery,” Dr. Horne writes in his book. “ Defenders of the so-called Confederate States of America [during the U.S. Civil War] were far from bonkers when they argued passionately that their revolt was consistent with the animating and driving spirit of 1776.”
Indeed, one understands better the reproach that the American founding fathers made “to our British brethren” in their Declaration of Independence. “We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.” Their principal concern: that slavery and the slave trade would be outlawed.
The birth of Haiti, the second independent nation of the Western Hemisphere, stands in stark counterpoint to that of its northern neighbor. It was a true revolution, aimed at forever ending slavery, not preserving it.
Consider the words pronounced by General Jean-Jacques Dessalines on Jan. 1, 1804 in the city of Gonaïves: “It is not enough to have expelled the [French] barbarians who have bloodied our land for two centuries; it is not enough to have restrained those ever-evolving factions that one after another mocked the specter of liberty that France dangled before you. We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth. We must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.”
Unfortunately, the primitive accumulation of capital by the newly emerged United States bourgeoisie through its inhuman crimes helped make it the super-power it is today. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed: “We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.”
Furthermore, Dr. King observed that the U.S. “was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race... We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade.”
In contrast to the American founding fathers, who denounced the “merciless Indian Savages” in their Declaration, the victorious slaves of the former French colony of St. Domingue renamed their new nation “Haiti,” the original Arawak name for the entire island, meaning “mountainous land.”
Haiti is, in fact, the world’s first nation to truly defend “liberty, equality, and fraternity” – the French Revolution’s watchwords – by opposing slavery and the extermination of the Native Americans.
These founding Haitian principles have deprived the nation of the great capital that can be extracted from exploitation, theft of land, and imperialist aggression. Haiti’s poverty also was contributed to when the U.S. refused to recognize Haiti for six decades (much as it embargoes revolutionary Cuba today) and militarily occupied our country for 36 years out of the past century, most recently though the United Nations proxy force, MINUSTAH.
Indeed, today, just as in time of Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. seeks to destroy our 1804 revolution by making us again a slave colony. In the past decade, their two principal thrusts have been 1) to land an occupation army in 2004 and 2) to intervene in our sovereign 2010/2011 elections to put in place a neo-colonial puppet regime, that of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Their goal is to re-enslave us in the sweatshop free trade zones of of SONAPI, CODEVI, and Caracol, and to steal the wealth from our “mountainous land,” in particular the $20 billion worth of gold dust left behind by the Spanish conquistadors who annihilated the Arawaks.
So, on this July 4, therefore, let us renew our allegiance to the call that General Dessalines made to all Haitians – both our ancestors and those of us living today – at the end of his January 1, 1804 declaration: “Vow before me to live free and independent, and to prefer death to anything that will try to place you back in chains.”