Fields’ Independence Day Message: Declaration Was Not Perfect


These days it seems the central activity of Independent Day is not the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia, but Nathan’s Feeding Frenzy in Coney Island.

Those who focus on the real meaning rightfully celebrate  the Declaration of Independence as arguably the most important document ever written by mankind.

But before you assume it is Perfection on Earth, I direct your attention to one paragraph that humanizes this otherwise product of the divine revelation of “truth, justice and the American way.”

Buried in the list of complaints about King George III is this:

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

The reference to “domestic insurrections” was a sop to colonial slave-owners who did not like the abolitionist movement that was growing in England and would lead to ending British slavery in 1792.  Slaveowners believed that the King and his henchmen was encouraging the numerous slave uprisings that were breaking out.

The references to “the merciless Indian savages”  was an attempt to repudiate the Treaty of Paris of 1763 that ended the French and Indian War (aka The Seven Years War).  It barred further expansion to the West where cheap land was available…if one could only rid of King George and those pesky natives.

The Declaration of Independence is, warts and all, one of the great political documents of mankind.

But we do ourselves no favors if we ignore the “warts”.

10 Responses to “Fields’ Independence Day Message: Declaration Was Not Perfect”

  1. challenge says:

    Happy 4th everyone!

  2. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    Happy 4th of July.

    Your essay allows me to revisit thoughts I had years ago reduced to a short letter to the editor published by the New York Times following the “shocking” discovery of DNA evidence showing that Jefferson had fathered children with his slave Sally Hemmings.

    Like you, I offer the proviso — there may be no American historial figure that I admire more than Thomas Jefferson. Or any more deserving. Just the same, I wasn’t at all shocked at all by the Hemmigs revelation and recall thinking it odd that anyone would be so surprised. Jefferson was a great man, nontheless a captive of the time in which he lived. That one bit of information seems almost worth dismissing, yet time and again we see how powerful a force it truly is when we study history.

    History must be studied within a human context. People make history and perhaps as important they record it. In both respects, they stain history with their good and bad attributes. Both are commonly magnified by the priorities and standards of their day.

    Politicians in particular often serve as the convenient captives of those priorities and that’s completely understandable given their role to represent the views of the governed. But how and why a thing is done is all important. Discovering those nuances distinguish the study of history from the mere reading of it.

    For example, there’s no dobut that the colonies at that time viewed slavery as essential to the maintenance of their economy. This view remained unchanged for the country’s first 200 years, possibly longer, certainly before and to for many in the South long after the Civil War was fought and won over that very viewpoint.

    Without slaves, it was believed, the colonies could not afford to produce the goods essential to sustain trade largely but not exclusively because of the high cost of transport. Slavery became a very sustainable element of fixed cost instead of wages which was a volitile element of variable cost.

    Business owners and farmers could better control costs, pricing and profits under that system and believed that without it they would have to accept very low profits in return for produce and goods were they forced to pay wages. The argument for slavery was driven by pure economics. The argument became so strong that it overcame the natural objections of good people on moral or philosophical grounds.

    In seeking to justify itself and settle the conscience against so horrible a notion, the argument inevitably arose that that slaves were not truly human. How well did people actually believed that excuse? That’s an important question for historian’s to study.

    Yet there remained a growing recognition throughout the world at that time — a view that Jefferson, for his part, suggested in his writings that he shared — that slavery was morally wrong no matter how well justified by economics and that no self-respecting government should permit much less protect so vile an institution.

    However, compelling or heartfelt his belief, the naked fact remains that this did not keep Jefferson from continuing to own slaves or using them in accordance with their station in that society. Rather, it confirms as we see over and over again throughout history that Jefferson was a human being cought captive in the standards and priorities his own time.

    After all who could argue that Jefferson, like Adams or Washington or so many of our founders, could only afford to entertain their interests in politics because they were, first and foremost, successful farmers who made enough money to sustain themselves and their families. It’s only for those reasons that they could afford such folly as politics.

    Nonetheless I’ve wondered for years now mindful of Jefferson’s cunning, his stunning literary skills and wry sense of humor, whether he intentionally chose the phrase “all men are created equal” not just to confront America’s immediate argument against Brittish rule but also to serve the interest of future argument against slavery that in his own day was not yet ripe.

    Without question, the political use of the word “equality” has not played a central role in the development of civil rights in America? Just as it would help inspire the French Revolution. For sure, it became a prominent concept in the Constitution and an essential ingredient in American political values.

    Jefferson introduced that notion in his Declaration despite contradictions in his own life.

    Questions of that kind distinguish the mere reading of history from the study of it and the ability to distinguishe historical information from understanding history. Those answers allow history to inform events of today with relevance based on those of years past.

    Sam’s correct, the “warts” as he calls them in history are important to understand. He might have given some credit, however, to the laws of Nature and their Creator for inspiring the Declaration of Independence which he calls one of the greatest political documents of mankind.

    Happy 4th to all.



  3. Its a Miracle says:


    If you were to die and go to Heaven today, you would complain about it there, too.

    Are you this negative in every aspect of your life? Do your friends moan when they see you coming, “Here comes that miserable whiner, Sam Fields,”? I must admit that you portray a sad image to your reading public.

  4. Kevin says:

    Slavery was ended in the British Empire in 1834, not 1792.

    But I get your point.

    Also, Tea Partiers need to realize that the Declaration of Independence was NOT anti-government. Far from it. The sentences after the one we all memorize (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, etc.), says “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” So, government, at least accountable government, MUST exist in order for our “natural” rights (that is, rights pre-existing government) to be secured.

    Kevin Hill

  5. Kevin says:

    Also, here is a part of the original draft that Jefferson saved in his papers after Congress deleted it at the insistence of GA and SC:

    he [the king of Britain] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s 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, by 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.

  6. SAM FIELDS says:

    Dear Miracle,
    Sorry to disappoint you, I am a very happy person. Ask Buddy or anyone that knows me.

    I believe there is a critical role to constantly remind us that even the greatest of our heroes have feet that are at least partially in clay.

    The worst thing we can do is to unrealistically build up the past. This can only lead to cynicism and disappointment in our own times and our own leaders.

    Want another example? Read the Magna Carta? Lot of great ideas and principals.

    But check out the sections that deal with screwing Jews out of debts legitimately owed to them.

    You may desire to live in this world of pseudo perfection. Ain’t me babe

  7. dk says:

    i’ll vouch for you, sam. u are a happy person and you certainly don’t whine and complain!!

  8. Its a Miracle says:

    Right Sam, we must always look at things realistically, but why is it that you always choose conservative people and ideals to tear down? And when people try to look realistically at present day people and situations, (Obama and Urban Weekend for instance) why is it that you and your ilk call us racists instead of thanking us? Sorry Sam, but most people can see through your thin veneer of “reasonableness” and discern the ugly hypocrite inside.

  9. Sam Fields says:


    I always attack ”conservative people and [their] ideals”.


    In this case I was attacking slavery and ripping off Native Americans.

    I am glad you admit both are “conservative ideals.”

  10. Its a Miracle says:

    Wrong again Sam and I see you never miss taking the cheap shot. The title of your column is “Declaration Not Perfect”. It just delights you to tear down such things. You couldn’t give a crap about slavery or Native Americans, you just hate to see things greater than yourself, so you must tear them down.