News Release

“The Terrible Origins of July 4th”

MARGARET KIMBERLEY, margaret.kimberley@blackagendareport.com@freedomrideblog
Kimberley is author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents which was published last year.

She just wrote the piece “The Terrible Origins of July 4th,” which notes that among the grievances toward the British monarch outlined in the Declaration of Independence were: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Kimberley explains the context: “The men who every school child is taught to think of as ‘patriots’ had two concerns which pushed them to declare independence. First, in 1763 the British emerged victorious after the end of a conflict against France. It was known in Europe as the Seven Years War and in America as the French and Indian War. The American moniker existed precisely because the French allied themselves with indigenous nations against the British. British victory brought them French held territory west of the Appalachians in the region now comprising midwestern states, but they knew they could not easily end indigenous wars if settlers along the eastern seaboard were allowed to go further west.

“Because of continued resistance from leaders such as Pontiac of the Ottawa nation, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade settlement west of the Appalachian mountains. One of the speculators poised to become a wealthier man if settlements were permitted to move westward was George Washington.

“He was not alone in his wish to conquer the entire continent and to get rich doing it. Property claims had already been made in these regions, and neither he nor the rest of his cohort were going to let British treaties with indigenous people stand in their way. They largely ignored the edict and went wherever they wanted to go.

“Their second concern was whether the British were committed to continuing the previously unfettered right to slave holding. In 1769 an enslaved man named James Somerset was purchased in Virginia and brought to England. He eventually escaped but was recaptured and was in the process of being sold to Jamaica. But Somerset had friends who went to court on his behalf. In 1772 a judge ruled that enslaved people could not be forcibly removed from England.

“The ruling didn’t end slavery in British territories and in fact it lasted in those regions for 50 more years. But even this narrow decision was too much for white Americans who feared that the crown might undermine or even end their right to slaveholding.”

Kimberley blogs at Freedom Rider and is editor and senior columnist at Black Agenda Report.