Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: CLEAR AS MUD (07/18/19)
TITLE: Declaration Dilemma
By Arlene Baker
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“Hear, hear.” The others pounded the table — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston, all chosen by Congress to draft a declaration of freedom from King George III.
“His preposterous taxes …”
“Illegal search and seizure of sailors on American ships …”
“Soldiers invading citizens’ homes at will …”
“Exactly.” Jefferson held up a hand. “All this and more amounts to enslavement, pure and simple. I believe we all agree the time has come to end it …”
“Once and for all,” Sherman declared.
John Adams cleared his throat. “While we’re all accusing His Majesty of enslaving us, are we not guilty of the same by enslaving the Negro …”
“Not now, John.” Livingston glared. “We’re facing an armed conflict with the king of …”
“Then, when?” Adams’ chin jutted. “We’re no better than he should we continue to enslave while demanding our own freedom.”
“It’s not the time,” Sherman added. “Livingston’s right. We need the southern colonies to have the slightest chance of prevailing.”
Heated dialog ensued. Most patriots preferred to ignore the issues of ‘that peculiar institution’ while clamoring for the full rights men in England enjoyed.
Adams tapped a finger on the papers strewn about the table. “You know what Otis declared.”
“‘The colonists are by the law of nature free-born, as indeed all man are, white or black...It is a clear truth that those who every day barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own.’” Adams turned to Jefferson, who owned many slaves. “What say you, Thomas?”
Jefferson scowled. “You need the south for any hope of winning a war,” he said. “I find slavery odious myself …”
“But haven’t seen the need to free any of them,” Adams pointed out.
The scowl deepened. “It’s a complicated issue,” he said. “Quite complicated.”
“Can’t touch it,” Sherman agreed.
“Besides, everyone knows Otis has gone mad.”
“Too inflammatory.” Franklin nodded. “We can deal with it later.”
“Later?” Adams echoed.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Franklin held up both hands. “Let’s handle one difficult issue at a time. We must make a comprehensive argument that all men have inalienable rights — we must make the king understand that.”
“Except our slaves.” Adams’ lips thinned. “I’ve heard Patrick Henry himself say he’s against slavery, but, in the next breath excuse himself by saying he can’t imagine the inconvenience of living without them.’ Sirs, don’t you find that blatantly hypocritical after he's thundered, ‘Give me liberty or give me death?’ Whose liberty? Only the whites? Or, all people?”
“Yes.” A chuckle pushed past Sherman’s tight lips. “His own servant, Henry, took him at his word and beat it for the British lines.”
“Adams.” Franklin touched the younger man’s shoulder. “All in good time. Livingston’s right. We’ve got to be united with the south or none of us stand a chance. We lose this conflict and the king will make our lives unbearable.”
“John, you know I’ve already tried to put something in the Declaration against slavery.” Jefferson shrugged. “Congress threw a fit.” He sighed. “Since Lord Dunmore promised our slaves freedom to fight for the king, I’ve personally lost 30 — all fleeing to the British lines.”
Livingston shook his head. “Do the Negroes really believe that the Brits will treat them any kinder than the Americans? They’re just pawns.”
“Pawns for both sides,” Sherman agreed.
“I was confronted in London,” Franklin complained. “I, too, detest the institution of buying and selling souls, but how can they accuse Americans of hypocrisy when they treat the working poor as they do? Are they not worse off than our slaves? Granville touts they are free. Free? They’re so poor, they’re as enslaved to their masters as our Negroes are here. They’re the hypocrites, not us.”
“How can we fight for freedom while robbing others?” Adams insisted.
“We are staring a revolution in the face,” Livingston repeated. “You know as well as the rest of us that there’s been a black revolution going on throughout the world for years. Have you forgotten the St. Vincent or Jamaican uprisings? Franklin is right, Adams. We need the support of our southern brothers — whatever the cost — or our own servitude will become intolerable.”
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