History13 Aug 2010 09:01 am
The first draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a condemnation of slavery that was struck out in order to conciliate representatives from the South. The original wording of the Constitution contained a famous “compromise” that allowed for slaves to be counted as “three-fifths” of a person when determining the number of seats that states would have in Congress, giving each plantation owner the equivalent of hundreds of votes with which to oppress his human chattel. These were horrible stains on the founding documents of the United States, and one man who had no use for the conciliation and compromise that applied them was John Brown.
Brown responded to these imperfections not by dismissing the Declaration and the Constitution, but by rewriting them. He saw that the principles they embodied were noble, despite their stance on the institution of slavery. His revisions lived up to the noble principles and categorically rejected the legality of human property. Brown’s “Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America” makes this point explicit, when it states that acts which condone slavery “are false, to the words, Spirit, and intention of the Constitution of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence.” His Declaration is a declaration of freedom for men and women held in bondage, and his “Provisional Constitution” began by recognizing slavery as an “unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion,” and setting forth the principles for a new Union that would be, in the words of Brown’s great successor in the battle against slavery, “conceived in liberty.”
In his time, Brown was dismissed as an insane traitor. But the war came, and the new Union that Lincoln created began the process of making Brown’s “Provisional Constitution” permanent.
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