In 2007, a lovely movie was released called Amazing Grace. It’s topic is the ongoing struggle of the abolitionists to put a stop to the slave trade in the early 1800’s in England. The story revolves around the struggle of William Wilberforce, an activist of animal rights as well as human rights, before his eventual success in convincing British Parliament to outlaw trade. While the film was funded by secular studios, it does not downplay the role faith held in William’s life, nor the influence it made on the abolition movement. Many people today do not realize how widespread a desire was to free the slaves long before the Civil War, in Europe as well as America. Slavery was a heated issue as early as the 1500’s, when Isabella of Spain condemned attempts to enslave the Indians of the “New World.” Her desire was to evangelize them, not enslave them, a fact that put her at odds with her favorite explorer, Christopher Columbus.
African trade did not appear for quite some time, but always had its dissenters. Abolition was so important to the Founders of America that initially, Thomas Jefferson drafted it into the Declaration of Independence, but his peers warned him the Southern Colonies would not sign it if it meant relinquishing their “rights” (since the south made a profit off slave labor). Many of the Founders had strong personal feelings about slavery. John Adams refused to own slaves in spite of the increased cost of doing all his own farming. His wife was a known abolitionist as well as a feminist (for her time) and believed he should fight for “equal rights for women, as well as slaves.” Some would have you believe Thomas Jefferson was not an abolitionist because he owned slaves, but he inherited them and felt a moral obligation to look after them, since many were uneducated and would have nowhere to go if freed. He could have sold some of them to pay off his massive (and also inherited) debts, but he never did. He expressed a belief that slaves could never “live in harmony with former masters,” and if freed it was his opinion that they should be should be returned to a colony on the coast of Africa and permitted to immigrate to the Colonies only if they so chose. George Washington also morally opposed slavery but could not, according to the laws of Virginia, free the ones he had inherited. He made provisions to free them at his death, but these wishes, sadly, were not honored by his descendants.
During the Revolutionary War, slaves were permitted to fight if they wanted to (they were not forced), and repaid with freedom. As the fictional but fascinating film The Patriot shows, some former slaves remained until the bitter end, even after earning their freedom, because they felt passionately for the cause. Once the war ended, slavery again became a debate during the framing of the Constitution, but it took almost a hundred years for Abraham Lincoln to make “all men equal under God.” (Contrary to common belief, the Civil War was not just about slavery but also about State Rights; many of the Southern Generals, such as “Stonewall” Jackson, were godly men who did not approve of slavery but were fighting for “their country” — meaning the South.) Had Lincoln not been assassinated, I have no doubt the South, and the situation of the African-Americans to this day, would have been far different. His removal from office did not “liberate and vindicate” the South as John Wilks Booth intended, but instead allowed corruption and carpetbaggers to move in. The former slaves were manipulated, bought off (“forty acres and a mule!” as Gone With the Wind puts it) and further alienated from the white population. Only in the 1960’s did this change, in part due to Rosa Parks and others like her, but also through Christian principles of racial tolerance.
Unfortunately, in the years since, a radical form of “extremism” has taken place. Racism is not dead and never will be until it ceases to become an issue. Our emphasis on “black” and “white” continues, and one side is frequently accused of being “intolerant” merely for expressing a difference of opinion. I have never known a racist. I see individuals based on their nature, integrity, and opinions much more than I see the color of their skin. I do not like rap music. I do not like it because of the intensity and the beat, but that does not mean I am a racist because it is “black music.” I do not agree with President Obama’s policies. I do not think his plans are financially sustainable in the long term. I would not care if he was as blonde and blue-eyed as Robert Redford, I still would not agree with him. So I refuse to be called “a racist” simply because he is half-black and I am not.
Our nation has nothing to be ashamed of. True, sometimes our ancestors made mistakes, but in each generation there were voices of abolition and an ongoing struggle for the rights of all men (and women) that originated within Christianity. Even the so-called “deists” of the 1700’s were far more religious than most devout believers today. If you choose to read the correspondence and journals of the Founders, you will find constant references to faith and God. Our nation was so devout in its early years that Washington’s inauguration included a church service. Congress reached such an impasse on framing the Constitution that they took a three day reprieve to rest and pray before continuing. In the words of one man there, “it was a miracle” when they returned from prayer, for all minds came together and all arguments ceased. They were in agreement and the Constitution came into being under a banner of faith. Modern historians would like us to forget this, to pretend it never happened. Attend any high school course on American history and not a word will be taught about the Faith of the Founders. Nothing is said about Jefferson using federal funds to assist missionaries or the fact that John Adams makes numerous reverent references to God in his detailed letters and speeches. No, these things must be hidden because it does not fit the image of “flawed” Founders—corrupt, uncaring, slave-owners—that political correctness demands they be, as white men and as Christians. It is the new form of racism, against white skin, against men, and above all against faith in God. It is a profound example of intolerance in a supposedly “tolerant” society, a blatant hypocrisy that only points to those responsible as being the true racists in our society.
I am sorry that for so many years, people were enslaved. I am sorry for the injustices some of them served at the hands of abusive masters. But I am proud of the many people who fought for their freedom, who advocated for them when they had no voice, who continue to this day to appeal for intervention on the part of their distant cousins in war-torn, deeply tumultuous regions of the world. I thank God every day for the faith of our Founders that gave us such a wonderful Constitution, and pray we can do them proud in the months and years to come. I do believe most racism is dead, but it will not truly be forgotten until no government form or college application has “race” on it, until we judge based on merit and character rather than skin color, and until I can voice an opinion on whatever I choose without running the risk of being thought intolerant.
It will come. I know it. Because we are, after all, America the Great. ♥