Frederick Douglass was a prophet,” says Shaun King. “Every single word of this is as true today as it was over 150 years ago. Read it all. The 4th of July was always been a sham. Always.” King has evidently not “read it all.”
Douglass, a man born into the battle against bondage, was right to feel indignant. Yet Douglass, like King, erred in assessing this nation. Douglass, being a far better man than King, came to see that. His animus gave way to a flourishing hope. Douglass realized that this nation was founded sincerely upon the promissory note that all men are created equal. At first denouncing the Declaration and the Constitution, Douglass came to revere the Constitution as “a glorious liberty document.”
Certainly, one can imagine King scratching his head: What does the Constitution have to do with the 4th of July? Only everything. “All this is not the result of accident,” wrote Abraham Lincoln, whose views of our nation were eventually shared by Douglass.
Without the Constitution, we could not have attained the Union, but, Lincoln wrote, there is something behind the Constitution, “entwining itself more closely about the human heart.” Without the “expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence,” that all men are created equal, “we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity.” A free government for a free people. Douglass embraced this truth.
“Abolish slavery tomorrow,” said Douglass, “and not a sentence or syllable of the Constitution need be altered.” Why? Because emancipation is implicit in the Declaration, and the Declaration provided the philosophical framework of the Constitution.
Slavery, Douglass concluded, was merely a “scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building is completed.” That “magnificent structure” is this land most of us proudly call home. It might shock King to know that Douglass didn’t kneel for the national anthem. Rather, he played it on his violin for his grandchildren in the years after the Civil War—one life for every six slaves freed.
Douglass, unlike King, condemned black “race pride, race love, race effort,” and “race superiority,” as “an effort to cast out Satan by Beelzebub.” The battle for liberty was not about black liberation, and it was not, according to Douglass:
because the victim of slavery was a negro, mulatto, or an Afro-American, but because the victim of slavery was a man and a brother to all other men, a child of God, and could claim with all mankind a common Father, and therefore should be recognized as an accountable being, a subject of government, and entitled to justice, liberty and equality before the law, and everywhere else.
King is right. Today is not a holiday for Black Lives Matter. For Black Lives Matter has rejected the equality principle in our Declaration as a “sham,” and as scoffers, they do not have to celebrate the 4th. They also, however, do not have the right to impose their badly misinformed views on all those Americans who, like Douglass did, believe in and live by the principles of our Declaration of Independence.
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