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The Meaning of Juneteenth

Today, in addition to Father’s Day being today, is also Juneteenth. A post I wrote last year about the significance of this federal holiday, which I believe is still relevant. Below are minor changes to the original post.

Juneteenth is a day to commemorate the 1865 abolition. It is opposed to being made a national holiday by some conservatives. They fear it will distract from Independence Day which falls on July 4. Others on the right may consider it a denial of America’s past of slavery, racism and even celebration of black nationalism.

The truth is that the Abolition of Slavery was the biggest achievement of the American Revolution’s universal principles and an indictment to ethnic nationalism.

Only a multiracial movement, which stressed the universality and moral arbitrariness based on race, was able to abolish slavery.

Josiah Wedgewood’s 1787 famous image was created to support the antislavery movement.

No accident, the antislavery movement came with what Kate Masur refers to as “America’s First Civil Rights Movement”, which sought equality for all blacks and went far beyond abolishing slavery.

Masur and others have shown that both white and black abolitionists referred to the universalist principles in the Founding when arguing for abolition. However, many also criticised the Founding’s later generation of white Americans for not living up to these principles. The American Revolution was criticized from the beginning for its contradictions with widespread slavery. Samuel Johnson once famously said, “How can it be that we hear the most loud yelps of liberty among the drivers for negroes?”

The hypocrisy of both the Founding and Founding were real. However, Revolution and Founding helped make abolition possible in large part because they gave a boost for universalistic Enlightenment liberalism on both sides. Below are some examples of why:

Revolution was not a retarder of the end of slavery. It actually helped accelerate it. Its triumph gave a big boost to Enlightenment liberalism, which inspired the First Emancipation in the US (the abolition of slavery in the North that became the first large-scale emancipation of slaves in modern history), and boosted antislavery movements in Europe, as well….

The Revolution would have brought down Enlightenment Liberal ideology in Britain, France and elsewhere. This would also have slowed down antislavery movements in France and Britain. Many European antislavery leaders sympathized with the American Revolution.

 

Even with all its failures, Revolution and Founding were a major step towards abolition. They were the first to attempt large-scale reforms that would establish an open society based on liberal universal principles, rather than cultural ties.

These principles were the foundation of many of America’s accomplishments, including the abolishment of slavery. These principles are what allowed America to be at its most successful, offering freedom and opportunity for people of all races and backgrounds.

Abraham Lincoln was the one who published the Emancipation Proclamation, whose late enforcement is Juneteenth. He summed it up best in his famed speech about the Declaration of Independence.

It seems that the instrument’s authors intended for it to be included. AllMen, however they didn’t mean to make all men equal. In all aspects…. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, or yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them…

It was a simple declaration of the RightPlease let us know if you have any questions. EnforcementIt may happen in as short a time as it is possible.

The idea was to create a universal maxim of free society, which everyone should know: it must be continuously sought out, worked for, and eventually, although never perfected, always approximated. Thus, the influence of this standard maxim will continue to grow and enhance happiness and life value for every person, regardless of their color.

Success of the antislavery campaign’s appeals to liberal universalalism was an inspiration for subsequent expansions in freedom, including equal rights for women and civil rights movement of the 20th century. Advocates of migration rights today would be wise to copy this model.

Lincoln was not able to fulfill the Founding’s ideals fully. This work is very incomplete today. However, Juneteenth is a significant milestone in our journey. It reminds us of the importance of focusing on the same principles that made abolishment possible.