Moving north?

Montreal Travel Blog

 › entry 8 of 23 › view all entries
Flying from Seattle to Montreal, as Lydia and I consider leaving the United States, with its guns, extremist religion and broken social and political systems, I read Rough Crossings, and considered that people have been moving north for a more ideal society since the very creation of the US. Rough Crossings is a book about the US revolution from the perspective of slaves. The abolitionist movement had become extremely strong in the United Kingdom in the years leading up to the revolution (far more 'radical' than the movement in the American colony). Historically, slavery didn’t exist in the British Isles, and it was only when rich landowners from the colonies started to bring back slaves to London that the hideousness of slavery was brought in front of the British people. Rapidly the concept of ownership over people was discarded in the British Isles, and the campaigners shifted their focus to the international slave trade and slavery in the colonies.

Indirectly, this movement against slavery in the UK was one of the triggers for the revolution. The cry of “no taxation without representation” may have worked in the northern colonies, and some of the leaders of the revolution were primarily concerned with personal independence (for white males), but the southern colonies were never seriously considering revolt. It was only when the Governors for the colonies began to suggest that in case of revolution slaves could be given their freedom if they joined in the defence of King George that the wealthy landowners in the south gained “patriotism”, claiming that the King sought to destroy their way of life, and they needed independence to protect their wealth and property. Despite massive disinformation campaigns by slave-owners, lying that the Governor would just sell them in the West Indies for his profit, and the threat of severe torture and death for captured run-aways, over a third of all slaves in the south ran away during the revolution. They flocked to the British lines, even jumping into the ocean to reach British ships as they sailed past, all trying to enrol to fight for the loyalists. The Governors were true to their word, and provided freedom to families who fled behind their lines and men who fought in their army. When the British were defeated, these ex-slaves were the major point of conflict, the British claimed that they had been freed during the war, and should be able to leave as freed slaves to Nova Scotia with the other loyalists, while the new American Congress claimed that they were still property and should be given back. Ultimately the British won that argument, but not without George Washington personally insisting on the return of ex-slaves and even threatening to continue the war to get them.

…the whole system, the entire network of American society is one great falsehood from beginning to end… In their celebrated Declaration of Independence they [the founding fathers] made their loudest, the clearest assertions of the rights of man and yet at that time the identical men who drew up the Declaration of Independence and framed the American democratic constitution, were trafficking in the blood and souls of their fellow men… From the period of their first adoption of the constitution of the United States downward everything good and great in the heart of the American people - everything patriotic within their breasts - has been summoned to defend this great lie before the world… The people of the United States are the boldest in their pretensions to freedom and the loudest in their profession of their love of liberty yet no nation upon the face of the globe can exhibit a statue book so full of all that is cruel, malicious and infernal as the American code of laws. Every page is red with the blood of the American slave.

- Federick Douglas, the self-educated run-away slave, in London 1846.

We hear the myth of America being founded on liberty, when it is patently untrue. Immediately after the revolution Congress went to war against the First Nations, seeking to deprive still more people of freedom. The Spanish-American war was started on a pretence in order to capture Spanish colonies in the Americas. The Mexican-American war was a blatant land grab from a country they should have been treating as a sibling, having come through its own revolution for independence from colonial masters.

We hear all these myths and believe them without thinking them through. America was (and still is) behind the rest of the world in ending slavery, in granting women the vote, in ending institutional racism, in providing universal health care. We know now how far modern America is behind the developed world in allowing indefinite imprisonment and torture without trial, reserving  for itself only the right to invade countries and not be bound by international laws. We say, without thinking, America has fallen from greatness and lost its moral authority. Has it, though, ever actually had moral authority? Has there ever been a period in America’s history where it has truly led the world? Perhaps America embracing a progressive concept has never been the beginning of a movement, perhaps the point where America finally joins the rest of the world has always been instead the end of the movement. So why do we all buy into the American narrative? Is it simply because American pop culture has sunk its tendrils so deeply into each of us that we have started to take for granted the flawed premise American culture is based on?

I would be glad to join in the proud and long tradition of moving north to embrace a functioning, compassionate, society.
mellemel8 says:
i shall check that book out.
Posted on: Aug 31, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
photo by: cvanzoen