Monday, February 1, 2016

The American Revolution

We recently observed the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, the ban on slavery. Slavery—involuntary servitude, bonded servitude, etc.—had been the law in the United States and tradition long before that. While a milestone in American History the 13th Amendment should not be seen as a goal or a finish line. The 13th Amendment figures in a wider context of the evolution of human rights since 1776 when the idea of inalienable rights was posed in the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers triggered, or rather, continued a revolution away from society and government based on one group subjugating another.

When our ancestors swung down from the trees where they took shelter from predators, they followed leaders who became tribal chiefs. They subjected themselves to the decisions (and whims) of those who kept them safe and fed. The chiefs liked it and did all they could to preserve their positions. They wanted to keep the power in their families and created elaborate mechanisms for succession.

By the time the Founders came along their society had 150 years worth of self government, or at least representative government. The colonial assemblies were revolutionary. When Parliament wanted the colonies to pay their taxes, but without having a say in the process, the Founders did not cooperate. They justified their decisions with ideas like inalienable rights. In 1789, the Constitution offered, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the American Revolution evolved more. The idea of servitude for life almost prevented the formation of a new nation until that peculiar institution was guaranteed. Still the revolution continued and pressure mounted to replace slave labor with free labor. This was anathema to leaders of opinion in slave states and resulted in secession, civil war, and the 13th Amendment.

The revolution did not end in 1865. The American experience has been one of widening the idea of human rights that did not stop in 1865. The last half of the 19th Century saw the rise of female suffrage and equality. The 20th Century saw the Civil Rights movement and the early 21st Century has given us ideas like marriage equality.

The United States was born in rebellion and revolution based on personal freedoms. The Pandora's box was opened, but instead of evil the good of human rights was released and continues to flow forth.

The American Revolution never ended.