By Nancy Spannaus
December 31, 2023—With the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party behind us, the hot phase of preparations for the celebration of America’s birthday has begun. For it was in 1774 that the American Revolution, which had been in process in the minds of the people for more than a decade, began to move rapidly toward an open break from the mother country.
The Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773
That document is rightly considered our nation’s birth certificate. The “thirteen united States of America” unanimously declared that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; …”
On September 9th of 1776, Congress passed a resolution changing “United Colonies” to “United States,” and mandated that this term be used on all official government documents, as it has been ever since.
Are We Prepared?
Unfortunately, all signs are that our nation is not prepared to properly celebrate this anniversary. Many Americans have been confused by all the recent discussion about America’s early history, which has focused primarily on the ways we have not lived up to the principles declared in July 1776. Yes, our shortcomings were (and are) great, but does that mean we have to be ashamed of our Revolution?
One of the major issues that has led to conflict over the nature of our Revolution is obviously slavery. At the extremes we have either those who would whitewash the horrors carried out in the name of our country, or those who apparently believe that our foundation is so flawed that we never should have declared our independence from the British Empire at all. This is a serious issue, and it should not be swept under the rug.
It is my hope that my new book, Defeating Slavery: Hamilton’s American System Showed the Way, will play a positive role in clarifying the crucial question of American identity. Let me tell you how.
Get the History Straight
First, my book provides solid evidence to refute the assertion that slavery is in America’s DNA. To the contrary, the British-American colonies were the site of the most vigorous anti-slavery activity anywhere in the world in the 18th century. It was not the British who took the lead, nor did the drive for abolition of the horror of enslavement only begin with William Lloyd Garrison in the 1830s. It turns out that, just as the American history books have often suppressed the truth about American slavery, they have also historically glossed over the anti-slavery movement in this country.
You will likely be as surprised as I was to read about the pamphlet demanding emancipation presented by Rhode Island Congregationalist minister Samuel Hopkins to the Second Continental Congress, or the arguments of Benjamin Rush against racial prejudice, or the spirited debate about eliminating slavery in the Virginia legislature of 1831. Yes, there were many prominent Americans, and others, who fought against the evil of slavery in the early period. (Excerpts of some of these documents are included in the book’s appendix.)
Obviously, the early anti-slavery movement failed, but that poses the question “why?” Defeating Slavery addresses that question by showing how the American System principles which underlay the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton, and his successors Henry Carey and Abraham Lincoln, held the promise of bring slavery to an end without a Civil War. I argue that Hamilton’s industrialization policy was absolutely essential for breaking the feudalist slave economy. A moral society based on freedom demands a moral political economy.
In addressing the relationship between national economic policy and slavery, I necessarily challenge the popular assertion that slave labor built the U.S. economy into the great power we became. To the contrary. Our scientific and technological progress occurred despite the long endurance of slavery.
No Academic Matter
As should be obvious to everyone reading this post, getting to the truth of America’s history on slavery is of vital political importance to our survival as a republic. More than ever, we need to lift ourselves out of the pit of demoralization, resentment, and rage which characterizes our national political life today. We need to re-examine our foundations, and move ahead with the positive lessons we find there.
The ideas behind the vision of economic progress Hamilton put forward have not died. They have emerged again and again in periods of national crisis, under the leadership of our greatest presidents. And they still hold the promise of pulling our nation together, creating a “new birth of freedom” for our entire population, and other nations as well.
I strongly urge you to use the QR code affixed here to get a copy of Defeating Slavery. It is vital for the truthful reckoning we need about our past, and for our future as well.
In preparing for America’s birthday this way, may you contribute to us all having a truly Happy New Year!
 It was John Adams who declared that the “compleat” American Revolution occurred in the “Minds of the People” well before hostilities broke out in 1775. He dated the change to 1761, but I believe it began well before.