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Saturday, October 23, 2021

A Demythologized View of the American Revolution

The story of the American Revolution is the most famous work of mythology that the Western thinkers have created after 1776. James Madison has said that the American Revolution was driven by the “sacred fire of liberty.” But liberty for whom?

The Declaration of Independence begins with these lines: “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…”—this sounds like a triumph of liberty, equality, and fraternity. But in the section known as Grievance 27, the Declaration of Independence clarifies that all are free and equal except the slaves and the natives. Here’s the text of Grievance 27:

“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 an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.”

The Declaration of Independence categorizes all Indians as merciless savages, even those who are allied to the American side. The words “domestic Insurrections” is a reference to the slave revolts which many Americans believed the British were inciting. In 1775, the British had announced that they would give freedom to all those who were enslaved by the revolutionaries if they joined the British Army. The American colonies feared the outbreak of slave revolts—the Grievance 27 addresses their concerns and clarifies that the slaves would not be freed.

The unique feature of the Declaration of Independence is that it inextricably binds slavery and racism with liberty. From the point of view of the slaves and the Native Indians, there was no liberty for them in American independence. For them, the “scared fire of liberty” often meant little more than new chains of bondage.  

The Founders of America are the most deified figures in Western history. But how did the Native Americans see them? In the Seneca tribe, George Washington was known as a “town destroyer.” They held him responsible for decimation of their cornfields and several villages. The Shawnee tribe knew Thomas Jefferson as the man who had started the war of extermination against them, when he was the Governor of Virginia.

The success of the American revolution led to an intensification in the campaign against the Native Indians. In 1779, George Washington sent this terrible order to his military commander: “The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their [Native Indian] settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible...Parties should be detached to lay waste to all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner; that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed.”

The founders of America and most of the European colonist population did not believe that the slaves and the natives could become civilized. To them becoming civilized was becoming white—that is something that the slaves and the natives could not do.

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