The Great American Essay

fiat justitia, ruat coelum

                                      Lord Mansfield, The Decision in Somerset’s Case, June 22, 1772[1]

America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.

                                                                                Frederick Douglass, 1852[2]

The wealthy landowners of Virginia and other southern colonies were fat and happy in 1766. The attempt in Great Britain to get the colonists to pay for the defense of their western border through the Stamp Act of 1765 was repealed in 1766 leading the Virginia assembly to consider erecting a statue of thanks dedicated to King George III.[3] Yet by 1775, much of the south was ready to participate with the perennially dissatisfied northern colonists in the American Revolution. What happened in the south between 1766 and 1775 to cause the privileged class of the southern colonies to become revolutionaries? It must have been something quite serious for these men to risk their lives and consider revolting against the source of their wealth and power. It was. Fomenting in 1772, there was an insidious threat to their way of life brewing in the mother country and colonial self rule seemed the only way to stop it. In a place which we think of as bursting with a desire for freedom, much of what was done was done to preserve the institution of slavery.

Any study of the American Revolution which does not mention the British High Court decision in Somerset’s Case in 1772 is not a history at all, but a perpetrated fiction with footnotes. Arguably, it is as a result of the decision in Somerset’s case that the American “war for independence” was fought.[4] In the decision, the highest court in Great Britain ruled the obvious; that slavery was an odious institution inconsistent with enlightened British and natural law. As a result of the decision, any American slave who made his or her way to England, even under a master’s control, could not be forced back to enslavement in America. Since under British common law men were by nature “free”, it was argued that the owning of a slave was the equivalent of kidnapping, assault, and false imprisonment.[5] According to the restrained decision, such an odious act against natural law could only be legal in England if there were a positive law permitting it to exist. But there was no such positive law in all of Britain, nor does it seem possible that such a law could have been consistent with the British notion of the rights of man that had developed by the mid 18th century.[6] The institution of slavery, so widespread in the Americas had come to be seen by many in England as a relic of a barbarous past.[7] Although the decision in Somerset’s case only applied to those slaves who found a way to the soil of England, American slave owners in the British Colonies understood that, as British citizens, their time to own another human as property could be nearing its end. Their solution was not to reconsider the institution of slavery in any meaningful way, but instead to break the ties with the country that threatened their lifestyle.  It was the Americans who, while spouting about freedom, were on the wrong side of history, at least as to the issue of slavery.

Although the American colonists in the north and the south were motivated by a different set of grievances against Great Britain, by the time of the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775 they were united in their desire for self determination and freedom from the constraints imposed on them by distant rule. In the north, the grievances were largely mercantile, relating to unfair taxation and the restraint of trade. History has chosen to attribute the call to war largely to these grievances.[8] But in the south, after the ill-conceived Stamp Act of 1865 which was repealed in 1866, British rule was largely unobtrusive if not beneficial. Many southerners enjoyed a superior quality of life, hardly the life that makes one think of revolution.[9] Were it not for the threat to slavery posed by the decision in Somerset’s’ case in 1772, it seems inconceivable that there would have been a move towards radicalism and independence. In the south it was understood that any threat to the institution of slavery was a threat to their entire way of life.[10] To slave holders, independence from Great Britain meant the ability to decide for themselves the future of the legality of slavery. It meant the ability to pass positive laws consistent with their slave ownership, a degree of self rule the colonists did not have under the cumbersome rules which did not allow colonial legislatures to institute law without approval of the king.[11] Although the history of America from 1765 to 1789 seems to be consistent with the flow of history towards self governance and the advancement of human rights, at least as to the issue of slavery it can be seen as a victory in the perpetration of a repressive government.[12]

The decision in Somerset’s Case should not need to be recounted here as if it is news. Clearly it falls outside the narrative taught to every school child which proffers only those events which trace the good American colonists reasonably responding to oppressive foreign rule. Americans barely consider the horror of slavery that existed not long before our own times and is certainly still reverberating now. Slavery was a defining American institution at the time of revolution and continuing to the Civil War. Yet, those that do speak of the blot of slavery as an unforgivable and unpunished national crime are often accused of living in the past, even as their accusers celebrate and dwell over simultaneous events. As I am certainly among those who count as blessings the great things that our founding fathers handed down to us through their bold experiment in government, I am queasy. Is there not a true history that each American must individually come to grips with?

Slavery In America

By 1776, it is estimated that the population of the American colonies was 2,500,000, of whom 500,000 were slaves. Virginia alone had more than 200,000 slaves.[13] The population of South Carolina was approximately four/fifths slaves. With the institution of a new government friendly to the slave holder, by the start of the Civil War in 1860, the number of slaves in America reached approximately 4 million. These numbers must lead to a contemplation of the moral foundation of this new government and its supposed commitment to freedom.

Slavery was a barbaric institution and slave holders knew it to be such. That the institution was of questionable legality was made quite clear to them by the decision in Somerset’s case in 1772.[14] Whether slavery in the colonies was legal or not, cruel acts against slaves were technically illegal, yet largely unpunished. There is little doubt that slave holders were not charged in numerous cases of murder, assault, child abuse, rape, and child endangerment against their slaves.[15] Slaves were not permitted to be educated, legally marry, and were denied any right to maintain a family.[16] Many slaves were literally worked to death, so much so that South Carolina needed a continuous new supply of slaves to work the lowland.[17] Still, we really know little of the horrors that were perpetrated in the many pretty houses of both the south and the north. One can always find cherry picked statements quoted by a series of apologists intending to prove that the founding fathers who were slave owners were good to their slaves, or wished for the end of slavery but at a future time.[18]  These were men who supposedly fought a revolution for the proposition that a human being must have a basic right of redress. I am an educated man and it is my sense that I learned little about slavery in America and I am convinced that this is an offense that has been done to me…with purpose.

Slavery In Great Britain

In England of the 18th century, there were various forms of indentured servitude, some quite barbaric. Yet, the idea that without cause and solely because of race a human being could be born a slave, live an entire lifetime as a slave, die a slave, and have children that were owned by their master and could be sold was foreign to Great Britain. By the mid 18th century London was a cosmopolitan city, where some free blacks found their place in the fabric of British life. At this time an aggressive anti- slavery movement developed in England around two issues; to eliminate the blot of slavery from the world focusing first on the proliferation of slavery in their own British colonies and, as an interim step, to eliminate British participation in the African slave trade.[19] At least as to the elimination of the African slave trade there was some support even among slave owners in Virginia, who were now producing surplus slaves for the domestic slave market and had economic reasons for their seemingly altruistic position.[20]

Despite the fact that slavery was not a recognized institution in England, American slave owners, being British citizens, had a nasty habit of bringing their slaves with them when they were conducting business in England.[21] In England, they treated their slaves as property in the same manner as they did in America and expected their contacts in England to do likewise. This naturally agitated the black population of England as well as many British citizens who were appalled by this conduct and by their implicit participation. By what right, they would ask, could one human own another anywhere, especially on the soil of England? The Americans appeared to be confused since their conduct raised no questions in their homeland which was thought to be controlled by the same law. By 1772, both sides wanted the British courts to decide the legality of the practice of maintaining slaves while in England, presumably because they each were certain that their view of the issue would be upheld.

When the case was decided in favor of and freed the slave Somerset, many were convinced the case would have limited import.[22] At most, it offered freedom only to that small number of slaves who were physically brought to England. It did not affect the right of British subjects to contract to buy or sell slaves. The Somerset decision did nothing to affect the participation of British subjects in the slave trade which was not made illegal until an act of Parliament in 1807.[23] Slavery was not abolished in all the British colonies until the passage of Parliamentary acts beginning in 1833.[24] Still, the decision was published in America and discussed in both the north and the south, by slave owners and slaves alike.[25] By 1773, with the situation in Massachusetts heading toward conflict over other issues, the decision in Somerset’s case, although having no effect as a matter of law in America, naturally could be interpreted in the south as an attack on a vital American institution. The south could not countenance this incursion, and the north was looking for friends or at least enemies of their enemies.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death![26]

It must not have been easy to publicly declare one’s treason at a time when the question of American independence was yet unresolved. It was a capital offense.[27] Patrick Henry clearly understood the value of freedom and in his rhetoric, at least, he places its value above the value of life itself. He risked his life by uttering those famous words.  Yet, as a slave owner, his use of the imagery of slavery in the speech as a metaphor for lesser inconveniences is truly abominable. It is simply bad rhetoric. Throwing God in there only makes it worse. There is a sickness to this speech, a sickness that seemed to pervade Virginian society in the mid 1770’s.

Patrick Henry was an ambitious landowner who, as a young man, owned little land and few slaves. Much of Virginia’s tilled soil was dedicated to raising tobacco and suffered from mineral depletion due to the specific needs of that crop. Henry’s growing brood would eventually reach 18 children. Like many who were part of Virginia’s ruling planter class, his solution was to acquire new untilled lands. As uncultivated land to the west remained cheap although difficult to tame, the more a landowner was willing to exploit slave labor, the more land he could acquire and use productively. Henry acquired more slaves as he acquired more land.[28]

Patrick Henry had the gift of oration which he eloquently used in 1765 as a new member of the Virginia House of Burgesses successfully speaking in favor of the repeal of the Stamp Act.[29] Although remaining as a legislator, neither he nor many in Virginia showed significant signs of dissatisfaction with Great Britain and certainly no revolutionary intent between 1766 and 1772. Biographers of Henry who fail to understand the significance of the decision in Somerset’s case in 1772, seem to be at a loss to explain the new found revolutionary spirit that seem to grip all of Virginia by 1773.[30] By the time Patrick Henry gave his most famous speech at the dawn of revolution in March 1775, the war was inevitable as was the leading role of Virginians. There were mercantile concerns relating to British rule in Virginia but, unlike in the northern colonies, these were largely mere inconveniences as the colony was growing ever wealthier largely due to its efficient use of slave labor and its sale of surplus slaves.  I submit that it could only be the real threat to the institution of slavery, imbedded in the Somerset decision of 1772, which propelled this wealthy colony towards Revolution.[31] One reason now given for Virginia’s move towards revolution was the proclamation by Lord Dunmore, the British Governor of Virginia, which promised freedom to slaves who fought on behalf of the British. But this proclamation was not issued until November 1775, after the Revolution had begun and months after Henry’s speech. While important in galvanizing some Virginians to war, it simply could not be a cause of the discontent in Virginia by 1775.[32]

The best minds of Virginia were incapable of dealing with the reality of slavery.[33] The whole social system of a large part of the country was based on it. An economic system both in the south and in the north was fueled by it. In addition, the colonists thought they had real concerns should their foray into independence include freedom for their slaves. Where were the slaves going to go if they were suddenly pronounced free?[34] What was to stop freed slaves from murdering their former owners who, perhaps according to the decision in Somerset’s case, were now exposed as mere kidnappers? Perhaps the former slaves would try to steal their land.[35] At the very least the cheap labor that fueled the economy would vanish. It was unimaginable to these men that a court thousands of miles away could know so little about their circumstances as to suggest that it was going to upend a social and economic institution that was clearly the engine of a productive society.

In his famous speech Henry demonstrated that he knew that it was evil it was for a person to be deprived of freedom. When considering the apparent contradiction between his freedom and the quest of his slaves for freedom he would join many of his times who would blame past generations of British rule.[36]  In reality, the contradiction could not be resolved because, to Henry and other white Virginians, freedom included the right to own slaves. This was obviously inconsistent with a slave’s right to be free. In his speech, Henry pledged to fight for his freedom but could not advocate for the freedom of others, and worse, took part in their enslavement. He was not just a bystander who was born into a corrupt system and did nothing to change it. There is compelling evidence that Patrick Henry saw the Virginia state militia first as a slave patrol and only subsequently as a revolutionary army.[37] Whatever one feels about his personal predicament, there should be a general consensus that the use of slavery as a metaphor in this speech is an abomination. It should only be repeated in classes on hypocrisy and bad oration. The man who gave it spewed nonsense and then went back home to his 60 to 80 slaves.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

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.[38]

It may be true that the issue of slavery plagued enlightened men like Thomas Jefferson. He was somewhat concerned about the plight of the slave and perhaps equally concerned with the depressing effect that slavery had on the industry of the slave holder.[39] Yet, I suggest that much of early American History can be summed up by his simple observation…“For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him.”[40]  It has been said of Thomas Jefferson that in addition to tilling his fields, slaves…”cut his firewood, cooked and served his meals, washed and iron his linen, brushed his suits, nursed his children, cleaned, scrubbed, polished, and opened and closed doors for him, saddled his horse, turned down his bed, waited on him hand and foot from dawn to dusk…” [41] His convenient solution to his dilemma over slavery was to first solve the problem of independence from England and leave the issue of slavery to be resolved at a future time.[42] Perhaps the less enlightened understood their situation better. To them, freedom from Great Britain in the 1770’s was the freedom to keep their slaves in light of the possible encroachment of British law.

In the years following the decision in Somerset’s case, Jefferson developed the philosophical underpinnings of his quest for independence. Perhaps he saw the decision as just another attempt by Great Britain to control the colonies and it furthered his purer motives towards revolution as a means towards self government. More likely, as a slave owner and a member of the slave owning class who had no intention of living equally amongst freed slaves, his philosophies were influenced by his personal circumstance. That his world had been called odious by the supreme judge of his mother country must have contributed to his yearning to be free from such disrespect.[43]

Jefferson knew that his most infamous words as written in the Declaration of Independence were not true.[44] He owned numerous slaves and knew quite well that by any meaning of the words his slaves were not born equal to him, nor were they able to exercise their unalienable rights. As a slaveholder in a system designed to protect slaveholders, he knew that it was he who was alienating these unalienable rights, a failure of logic that he could never resolve.

Perhaps, as an architect, Jefferson understood that a government, like a building, can survive only if it built on solid rock in accordance with eternal principles of beauty and stability. He helped build a new government on those principles.[45] That is why the principle of equality he set forth in the Declaration of Independence has resonated throughout the ages despite the questionable nature of its inception.  Whether it is hypocrisy, self delusion, or aspiration that motivated Jefferson is immaterial; the declaration of equality is a worthy embodiment of ideals from a flawed messenger.

As we return to Jefferson the man, we find him as despicable as the rest of us. I join with those who cannot give him a pass for owning slaves, the more so because he, like Patrick Henry, continually showed that he knew better.[46] Like Henry, Jefferson often used slavery as a metaphor to describe his predicament as an aggrieved (though quite wealthy) British subject.[47] Never in all his musings about the end of slavery did he perceive of a multi-cultural America; his plan was for ultimate freedom and deportation of a race that he perceived was not capable of participating in his view of a civilized society.[48] That he was a product of his time is inexcusable because, perhaps by definition, great men find a way to be better than their times. He was a vital and integral part of an evil system that continued long after it should have and ended badly if one can say that it truly ended at all. While as a person I leave him in the mud, as a political theorist I give him his due. He wrote great truths which continue to inspire the best of us to do our best work. Then he went home to his approximately two hundred slaves.[49]

John Adams (1735-1826)

I constantly said in former times to the Southern gentlemen, I cannot comprehend the object; I must leave it to you. I will vote for forcing no measure against your judgments.[50]

History places John Adams in that group of colonists who did not own slaves or directly profit from slavery, and who personally abhorred the institution.[51] Yet the early history of the United States is replete with deals made by Adams to hold the union together on the backs of the toil of slaves. In virtually every important decision made in the cause of revolution and the establishment of a new country the slave holders wanted one thing…a path to insure that slavery would exist unfettered in the new country.  Adams had to compromise on only the one issue to move the cause of revolution forward. He is often credited with being the political force that kept the union together. Sometimes there is no line between politics and appeasement. There is little doubt that the Adams compromises on slavery enabled the institution to survive in the new country. While many in ignorance suggest that were it not for these compromises America, today, would live under British rule, there is no consensus on what would have happened had John Adams done the right thing.

In what became known as the first Continental Congress in 1774, it was John Adams from Massachusetts who sought allies in the cause of revolution from the Virginia delegation.[52] There he authored the Declaration of Rights and Grievances which first put forth the notion that a Colonial legislative body had exclusive control over its internal policies. Although seemingly about taxation and trade, the Southern delegations must have been satisfied that their interests in regard to slavery were to be protected because slavery would be treated as a local, not a national issue.[53] With southerners concerned about the ramifications of the recently decided Somerset case, the first resolution of the Continental Congress in regard to the colonists must have been comforting…

They are entitled to life, liberty and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.[54]

In the Second Continental Congress in 1776, it was John Adams who put forth a resolution that indicated that all states should draft new and independent constitutions.  He saw this as a vital step towards self government.[55] It could now be seen as permission for a state to create the positive law permitting slavery anticipated by the decision in Somerset’s case as the only way that the institution of slavery could logically exist in a “free” society. While objecting, Adams agreed to the removal of any mention of the evils of the slave trade from the Declaration of Independence, supposedly due to objections from Georgia and South Carolina.[56] In negotiating the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Adams along with Benjamin Franklin signed off on the provision that required the British to return to America all former slaves brought to England and freedom by returning British soldiers. This provision in the treaty was in direct conflict with their freedom granted in the Somerset decision, a conflict which was never resolved legally. Despite the efforts of slaveholders, including George Washington, enforcement of this provision proved difficult in England and there is little evidence that many former slaves were “repatriated” as a result of this provision.

It is likely that a plan to eliminate slavery in America could have been forged by the founding fathers had Adams been so inclined. Perhaps South Carolina and Georgia would have balked and may have sat out the war. The reality was that there was nowhere for them to go. Even Virginia, the richest colony with the most to lose, faced a Hobson’s choice. By 1776, the British people and their government demonstrated greater anti-slavery sentiment than most Americans, who displayed little such inclination. The anti-slavery sentiment had now been expressed in the strongest terms by the British high court in the decision in Somerset’s case.  A unity of the southern colonies with Britain over the issue of slavery was increasingly impossible. Had a date certain been set for the elimination of slavery in America when it was discussed in 1776, and a reasonable plan been forged to resolve the issue, it is possible that the union would have held and the revolution would have proceeded.[57] There may have even been a ready supply of black soldiers yearning for freedom to aid the cause. It is impossible to say what would have happened to the Union had any real effort been made to deal with the issue of slavery in 1776. Clearly, the southerners wanted none of it and Adams did not care to see the bluff. Perhaps he even knew that the fear of the Britain anti-slavery movement would keep the south fighting in his revolution. Supposedly, Adams and Jefferson were comfortable with the idea that eventually the country would have to address the issue and abolish slavery. That did not happen for 85 years. That the Adams compromises lead to a country founded on hypocritical principles will always plague America. That the country treated its hardest workers as an enemy and their oppressors as its heroes remains a constant limiting factor in its present advance towards a more perfect union. That no person more than John Adams brought about this historic calamity is just sad. Perhaps his greatest achievement was not his participation in the creation of a flawed government, but in his nurturing of the great John Quincy Adams, a founding father who worked tirelessly towards the end of the scourge of slavery.

George Washington (1732-1799)

Who among us has the right to throw stones at this man? George Washington is perhaps the most revered man in the history of America and perhaps with many good reasons. There is little doubt that through his personality, he kept the spirit of the Revolution alive at its most perilous times. On the issue of his motivations and his approach to slavery, there is a mixed account. There is evidence that he treated his many slaves well and contrary evidence that he had them whipped for being unproductive. There is evidence that he grew to see that slavery must be abolished and contrary indications that he rarely thought of abolition and only thought to free his own slaves upon his death because they were too numerous for his land and were growing old and expensive to maintain.[58] It would be simplistic to assert that he bore the contradictions of the age and leave it at that. I reach the conclusion that he was the ultimate conservative…his fight was to keep a lifestyle that had served him well and, given the decision in Somerset’s case,  his ends could only be accomplished by freeing the colonies from the threat of British incursion into the institution of slavery and leaving it to Americans to address the issue. Unlike an intellectual like Jefferson, Washington was a pragmatic and decidedly earthly leader who, not surprisingly given his social status, cast his lot with the survival of the slave state. He too was not an innocent bystander who was born into a corrupt system and did nothing to change it. Washington, as president, personally took up the cause of slave owners in their startling pursuit of compensation or return of those former slaves who made it to freedom in England, and were arguably compelled to return to their masters in America under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.[59] Perhaps the saddest thing I can say about all of American History is that I doubt that the wealthy and respected George Washington would have even contemplated revolution were it not for the threat to slavery in the Somerset decision.  Through the force of his personality he helped create a country out of nothing and then went home to approximately 200 slaves.[60]


By the time of the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, the proponents of legal slavery in America had already succeeded in guaranteeing that the institution would survive intact in the new country. During the ratification process, the issue of slavery arose as did many other issues, and it was the subject of a political solution just as all other issues. How so many great minds could let that happen will always be a mystery to me.

While many students of history are familiar with the horrible compromise in Article One that decreed that for purposes of taxation and representation a slave was to be counted as three fifths of a person, there has been less focus on the even more despicable provision in the constitution that was a specific response to the decision in Somerset’s case. Slave owners in the new country understood that if their slaves escaped to England they would become free pursuant to the decision in Somerset’s case. The same would essentially occur if the slave escaped to the largely ungoverned west, or to Canada.  The Southern states needed assurance that their slaves would not become free merely by escaping to a nearby state which abolished slavery, as Massachusetts had by 1783. Article Four Section Two of the Constitution of the United States, the first national Fugitive Slave Law, provided that assurance. Without a Constitutional Amendment, which did not occur until 1865, all citizens of the United States were bound to honor the rights of slave holders, even in states that might find the institution “odious”.  In essence then, a state could not make slavery illegal within its borders since the Constitution provided that a slave from another state within its borders would still be a slave. Thus, by 1787, although the new country had based much of its system of laws on those of its former mother country, the decision in Somerset’s case had been blotted out of existence in American jurisprudence.


It has been noted that Jefferson built up and tore down his architectural masterwork at Monticello continually through his adult life. So too must we tinker with his other masterwork, the government of the United States. We have become a country with two histories, the revisionist one taught in our schools and the real history which reflects our gritty barbaric past.  It is often said that history shows that the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice.[61] I am not so sure. The sensible decision of the British High court in Somerset’s case existed for 15 years when the United States Constitution denied it as law for the new country.  The decision existed for 82 years when the United States Supreme Court issued the contrary repulsive Dred Scott decision.[62] It is not new for me to say that the human heart is capable of producing both good and evil. My study of history leads me to the inescapable conclusion that it always will.  I submit that the search for historic truth today is no less important to the soul of our nation than the quest for freedom was at our founding. The big problem perhaps is to discern a way to arm oneself with an accurate compass and the correct slingshot. Only then is it possible to continue the work that Lord Mansfield started with his fateful warning in the Somerset decision “…. fiat justitia, ruat coelum,” let justice be done, though the heavens fall.”

[1]See Alfred W. Blumrosen and Ruth G. Blumrosen, Slave Nation, How Slavery United the Colonies & Sparked the American Revolution (Sourcebooks Inc., Naperville Illinois 2005) 9. I note that an actual text of the decision may not exist.

[2] Extract from an oration at Rochester, New York July 5, 1852.

[3] See website accessed 10/27/13…

[4] Slave Nation, cited above, which explores the impact of the Somerset decision may be considered a work of revisionist history. I consider it perhaps the first book about American History which makes sense. Perhaps the books which fail to mention Somerset’s Case are revisionist history. Reporting the truth is not a race to see who reports first. Most references to the Somerset decision and its impact are taken from Slave Nation unless otherwise cited.

[5] Blumrosen and Blumrosen, 9.

[6] After the Somerset decision, slave owners petitioned Parliament to pass a positive law legalizing slavery. It declined to do so. Blumrosen and Blumrosen, 12. See also Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy, Slavery and War In Virginia, 1772-1832, (W.W. Norton & Company New York 2013) 21.

[7] Bernard Bailyn, The Barbarous Years (Alfred A. Knopf New York 2012) 174-179.

[8] Taylor, 22.

[9] See Richard R. Beeman, Patrick Henry, A Biography (McGraw-Hill Book Company New York 1974) 33-49, 83.

[10] Beeman 69.

[11] See Blumrosen and Blumrosen 21.

[12] See Taylor 21.

[13] David McCullough, John Adams (Simon & Schuster, New York 2001)131.

[14] That Americans read and knew the significance of the decision is well documented in Blumrosen and Blumrosen, 33-55. See also, Taylor 21.

[15] The slave narratives written both before and after Emancipation are perhaps the best firsthand evidence of the true horrors of slavery. The most well known of these is the autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845). As brutal as his Narratives are, Douglass admits to pulling some punches to protect himself as he was a fugitive slave at the time of publication. The narratives were written by men and thematically deal with the subrogation and reclamation of manhood. The special concerns of female slaves remain unimaginable. See Introduction to the Signature Edition of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Dale Edwyna Smith (Barnes & Noble New York 2012).

[16] In his Narrative and later speeches and writings, Douglass came back to this theme numerous times. Without deemphasizing the oppression of the whip, Douglass continually argued that some horrors of slavery were more subtle but no less the result of abject cruelty.

[17] Blumrosen and Blumrosen 46.

[18] See Beeman 95. See also Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello website; accessed 9/9/2013.

[19] Blumrosen and Blumrosen 4-5.

[20] Blumrosen and Blumrosen 46. Taylor 22.

[21] Blumrosen and Blumrosen 3.

[22] Benjamin Franklin suggested that the decision freed one slave. Blumrosen and Blumrosen, 12-13.

[23] Marika Sherwood, Britain, Slavery and the trade in enslaved Africans, Issue 12 of History in Focus, Institute of Historical Research of the University of London. Website accessed 9/3/2013 …

[24] Ibid.

[25] Blumrosen and Blumrosen 24. See also William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Robert F. Wallcut, Boston 1855) as reprinted in The American Negro His History and Literature, Edited by William Loren Katz (Arno Press and the New York Times, New York 1968) 42.

[26] Patrick Henry’s speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses, March 23, 1775. The precise words may be in doubt but not the power of the oratory. See Richard R. Beeman, Patrick Henry, A Biography (McGraw-Hill Book Company New York 1974) 66.

[27] It should be noted that as a major participant in the first Continental Congress in 1774 Henry was already subject to conviction of a capital offense. Harlow Giles Unger, Lion of Liberty, Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation (Da Capo Press Philadelphia 2010) 94-95.

[28] Unger 7, Beeman 26-28. See also Taylor 48.

[29] Beeman 35-37.

[30] Beeman 83. See also Blumrosen and Blumrosen 21.

[31] I submit that as to this subject Slave Nation should be required reading.

[32] See Taylor 23-24.

[33] As to Henry, see Unger 53.

[34] See The Editors of Newsweek Books, The Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, A Biography in his Own Words, (Harper & row, New York 1974) 79. See also Roger G. Kennedy, Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause (Oxford University Press, New York 2003) 116-117.

[35] Unger 51-53.Taylor 42.

[36] Unger 51.

[37] See Carl T. Bogus, The Hidden History of the Second Amendment, University of California at Davis Law Review, 31(1998): 309 at 335-338.

[38] The Declaration of Independence.

[39] Editors of Newsweek 78, 79.

[40] Editors of Newsweek 78.

[41] David McCullough, John Adams (Simon & Schuster, New York 2001) 116.

[42] See Editors of Newsweek 79, 80.

[43] See Blumrosen and Blumrosen 30-32.

[44] It has been suggested that the word “created” was chosen over the word “born” to suggest that Jefferson was formulating a scientific or philosophical approach to the issue of race. It is lost on me. See Daniel J. Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1948, Third Edition 1993) 61. The better treatment of this issue is found in Blumrosen and Blumrosen at 137-139.

[45] See Roger G. Kennedy, Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause (Oxford University Press, New York 2003) 38,39.

[46] Boorstin concludes that Jefferson “played fast and loose with the concepts on which he built his own science”,  94, 97.

[47] The Editors of Newsweek Books, The Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, A Biography in his Own Words, (Harper & row, New York 1974) 49

[48] Kennedy 116, Editors of Newsweek, 79. Taylor 42.

[49] Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello website; accessed 9/9/2013. See also McCullough131.

[50] Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 1821. See Joseph J. Ellis, Passionate Sage, The Character and Legacy of John Adams (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York 1993) 138.

[51] McCullough 131.

[52] Joseph J. Ellis, Passionate Sage, The Character and Legacy of John Adams (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York 1993) 39.

[53] After Virginia declared independence from England in 1776, it addressed the issue by defining “the black population right out of the body politic.” Beeman 102.

[54] It is often noted that the concerns of the first Continental Congress are largely a restatement of the grievances set forth by the Stamp Act Congress in 1766. This is not true. While many concerns were the same, this provision is new.

[55] Ellis, 65

[56] McCullough 134. Editors of Newsweek, 65.

[57] See Beeman 102.

[58] Most every biographer of Washington has a theory of his personal and political views on slavery. I suspect that he was more lenient than most but stories persist of cruelty to slaves at Mount Vernon, and that his replaced teeth were extracted from his slaves. For a general view see Chernow, Washington, A Life, (Penguin Press New York 2010) 110-117.

[59] See Chernow, 639; and James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn, George Washington, The American Presidents, Arthur M. Schlesinger, General Editor (Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2004). 109-110.

[60] McCullough 131. See also Henry Louis Gates, Jr. George Washington’s Runaway Slave, Harry, posted on The Root; website accessed Oct, 26, 2013.

[61] Attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967 possibly originating with abolitionist Theodore Parker. See website…

[62] Scott v. Sandford – 60 U.S. 393 (1856).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: