Reggie Jackson: Remembering that the Declaration of Independence was a “Woke” Manifesto
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
“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. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness … The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”
– In Congress on July 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America
These trailblazing words led to the creation of a new nation, formed out of the thirteen English colonies in North America. They were not well received back in England, because they challenged the authority of King George. The colonists were literally trying to “cancel” King George.
The word “woke” arose in the wake of protests across America, after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in May 2020. White folks around the country joined a loud chorus of people of color, mostly within the Black community, saying that it was time for a racial reckoning.
Over the ensuing three years, the term “woke” has been turned into a pejorative term by those who want to maintain the status quo of a privileged hierarchy. Depending on which side of the debate you are on, will determine how you judge the meaning of “wokeness.”
I think a similar dynamic was in play in the colonies and across the Atlantic in England in 1776.
I am sure that some people who see the title of this article are already considering it blasphemous. How dare I call the Founding Fathers woke?
They were courageous enough to push back against the powers that be and the status quo. I can easily see the parallels to those calling for changes to the racial order after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the rise in acceptance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Of course, this has led to a great deal of divisiveness in America, and even claims that a new revolution is underway.
“In the British press, the publications that discussed the Declaration generally reacted with contempt toward the ideology expressed by its preamble, and anger at the ingratitude showed by the colonists toward their King.” – Nathan Dorn, rare book curator, and Robert Brammer, chief of the Office of External Relations of the Library of Congress.
King George gave a speech to Parliament in reference to the declaration on October 31, 1776.
“My Lords and Gentlemen,
Nothing could have afforded me so much satisfaction as to have been able to inform you, at the opening of this session, that the troubles, which have so long distracted my colonies in North America, were at an end; and that my unhappy people, recovered from their delusion, had delivered themselves from the oppression of their leaders, and returned to their duty: but so daring and desperate is the spirit of those leaders, whose object has always been dominion and power, that they have now openly renounced all allegiance to the crown, and all political connection with this country; they have rejected, with circumstances of indignity and insult, the means of conciliation held out to them under the authority of our commission; and have presumed to set up their rebellious confederacies for independent states. If their treason be suffered to take root, much mischief must grow from it, to the safety of my loyal colonies, to the commerce of my kingdoms, and indeed to the present system of all Europe. One great advantage, however, will be derived from the object of the rebels being openly avowed, and clearly understood; we shall have unanimity at home, founded in the general conviction of the justice and necessity of our measures … No people ever enjoyed more happiness, or lived under a milder government, than those now revolted provinces: the improvements in every art, of which they boast, declare it; their numbers, their wealth, their strength by sea and land, which they think sufficient to enable them to make head against the whole power of the mother-country, are irrefragable proofs of it. My desire is to restore to them the blessings of law and liberty, equally enjoyed by every British subject, which they have fatally and desperately exchanged for all the calamities of war, and the arbitrary tyranny of their chiefs.”
Obviously, the King was not willing to acknowledge the claims made in the declaration as being legitimate. He said the colonists had been deluded by their leaders and decried the folly of their “delusions.” It would take years of warfare to break those bonds with the motherland, but it did lead to the creation of the United States of America.
The list of complaints about King George was long … the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States …
- He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
- He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
- He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
- He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
- He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
- He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
- He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
- He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
- He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
- He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
- He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
- He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
- He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.
- For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.
- For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.
- For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.
- For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.
- For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.
- For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses.
- For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies.
- For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.
- For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
- He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
- He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
- He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
- He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
And clearly the most ironic complaint is blaming him for slave revolts and the Indians defense of their communities in the colonies.
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.
They were “woke” with limitations. They were also too blind to see that they were practicing the same tyranny they complained of.