On July Fourth, the kind of “originalism” we should keep in mind

“Fellow citizens: Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to me? . . .

“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival . . .”

— Frederick Douglass, on July Fourth 1852, quoted in “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn.

One reason slavery lasted four hundred years

“Slaves were scarce, and by 1819, prime field hands were selling for $1100 in the markets of New Orleans. Even in Cuba, the paradise of smugglers, they brought $350. On the Guinea coast they could be purchased for a few yards of cloth, a keg of gunpowder, and a cask of rum – for goods, that is, worth $25 to $50. It was an old axiom of the British excise men that no trade could be prohibited when its profits were more than thirty per cent. The profits of a successful slaving voyage were a hundred and fifty, two hundred, two hundred and fifty per cent.”

  • Malcom Cowley’s introduction to “Adventures of an African Slaver: Being a True Account of the Life of CAPTAIN THEODORE CANOT, Trader in Gold, Ivory & Slaves on the Coast of Guinea: His Own Story as told in the Year 1854 to Brantz Mayer.”