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Sunday, October 30, 2022

Enslaved & In Service II: A New Nation

If you're just joining us, consider going to the Introduction for Enslaved & In Service: here! Missed the last post? Find "Part I: Colonial New York" here.

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."
- Frederick Douglass,

John Trumbull. Declaration of Independence. 1826. Oil on canvas.
12' x 18'. United States Capitol Rotunda. 
Edited by Arlen Parsa and Zachary Veith to highlight enslavers depicted.
Courtesy of PolitiFact.

            At the conclusion of the War for Independence, Benjamin Rush stated “The American War is over, but this is far from being the case with the American Revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed.”[i] Benjamin Rush and others expected great social change on the horizon. Indeed the revolutionary rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal – had a resounding impact on every aspect of society, especially the growing discussion around enslavement.[ii] The words and actions of the Revolutionary generation demonstrate a paradox between owning humans and espousing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of the forty-seven men depicted in John Trumbull's painting, "Declaration of Independence" (above), thirty-four enslaved people. Among those thirty-four men, indicated with red dots over their faces by documentarian Arlen Parsa, are Morgan Lewis' father, Francis Lewis (indicated by a yellow diamond) and his brother-in-law, Robert Livingston (indicated by a blue square). Despite how Benjamin Rush and others saw the American Revolution as a social revolution, the conditions for enslaved Black people in the early republic barely improved.[iii] The same men who declared "all men are created equal" enforced a racial hierarchy that denied basic human rights to Black and other non-White people.