You Can't Tell the Story of 1776 Without Talking About Race and Slavery

Arguments about race and slavery were not just at the core of American founding, but what unified the United States. It has been difficult to acknowledge just how deeply the Founding Fathers thought, spoke, and wrote about race during the American independence. John Adams is a key reason we still don't fully understand this. John Adams, 83 years old, wanted Americans to understand how amazing it was for America to declare independence more than 40 years later. Adams recalled that getting all 13 colonies to make the same important decision was a difficult task and perhaps the most significant example of human endeavor. They were always at war with one another. However, 1776 saw something extraordinary. Treisteen clocks were assembled to create a perfect mechanism, something Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the Continental Congress achieved. This is a compelling way to think. This created an exceptional, attractive origin story for the United States. It covered up Adams's work and that of his coworkers at the time. This work was about making Americans fear British-sponsored slave rebellions. Recent controversy surrounding critical race theory has sparked public debate over the centrality and importance of race in American history. The nation's founding has been the subject of intense scrutiny, a debate that has been ongoing since publication of the 1619 Project. What did 1776 have to offer about slavery and race? It is essential to have it in order to tell the story. When it comes to race, we have given the founding fathers a pass. We have often called Jefferson a hypocrite and have tried to explain it away by citing the Declaration's opening paragraphs or the emancipation efforts made by some northern states. Or, you can say, "Well, it was the 18th century. What should we expect?" You only need to look at Revolution to see how deeply racism was embedded in the patriot cause. After the shooting began, patriot leaders began to talk about race in a different way than before. The news of Lexington and Concord was widely spread across North America. Colonists started to wonder, talk and worry about the role of enslaved people in this new world of war against Great Britain. Between April 1775 to July 1776, colonists would continue to read about British agents inciting slave rebellions throughout the South for the next 15 months. Patriot leaders broadcast news about royal officials across America plotting to subdue the rebellion. Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore issued an emancipation proclamation in November 1775. However, he wasn't the only royal governor to be accused of using such tactics. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin and their coworkers worked hard over the fifteen months to alert colonists about British treachery. The Declaration of Independence was the culmination of patriots' efforts to get stories about instigated rebellions into the hands of American children. It is actually the culmination of the document. The Continental Congress charged King George with 27 crimes. These were facts that had to be presented to a candid world. This led to the colonies declaring their independence. The last was about Native Americans potentially joining King George to destroy American liberty. Jefferson had written a touching passage that described the African slave trade in a cruel war against humanity. Unfortunately, Congress did not remove all of it. They retained the part that Jefferson had written, which referred to the African slave trade as a blunder and a cruel war against human nature. However, Congress did not remove the rest of the passage. The fact that patriots rejected the attempts to recruit Native fighters and enslaved peoples to fight for them, meant that Americans would now be free and independent states. The fact that the Continental Congress felt Jefferson's antislavery sentiments were too controversial for them, but the accusation of instigating insurrections is not, shows how successful their campaign was. The one thing white colonists and Patriot leaders shared was racism. The founders encouraged and mobilized colonial prejudices against potentially dangerous African Americans. They used those fears to unify the colonies. It was not clear to him how he had, four decades before, mobilized American prejudices against Black people (what we call racism today) to bring the colonies together. This effort not only made America independent but also placed race in the foundation of the American republic, which was founded on July 4, 1776. Register for Inside TIME. 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