Today is the Fourth of July. This is the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the thirteen colonies in 1776. The document begins with these famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Like all red-blooded Americans, I know those words by heart, and I love Thomas Jefferson for having written them, but I think the Revolution was a mistake.
Bear with me for a moment…
Despite the fact that Jefferson owned slaves, he believed slavery was the greatest threat to our survival as a nation. He wasn’t wrong. The “peculiar institution,” as it was called in the 18th century, has done nothing but unravel us. It was responsible for a bloody civil war, and has been the source of voter suppression, mass incarceration of black people (tantamount to slavery), the transmogrification of our justice system, and indeed the very undermining of democracy. The institution of slavery and its down-stream products through the centuries have done nothing but mire us in a miasma of endemic racism and now its current iteration of white nationalist fascism.
All of this could have been avoided if we had simply remained part of Britain for just a little while longer. In 1807, Britain passed the Slave Trade Act, which made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 abolished slavery in most of the Empire (except Ceylon and India). If we had held on for another generation, the “peculiar institution” would not still be haunting us as a nation.
But would we have had a democracy? Of course we would. The countries that have remained part of the Commonwealth are democracies. What’s more they have universal health care and a better education system that we do. The standard of living is higher in the Commonwealth, because in the US our entire system has been dragged down by denying “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to a significant portion of our population.
In my alternative history, we live better lives for not having fought the Revolution, for not having our country torn apart by the Civil War, for not having a militarized police force bent on terrorizing the descendants of slaves as well as all those who fight for their rights. In my alternative history, we don’t celebrate the 4th of July, because we have won our freedom without bloodshed. In my alternative history, we would be able say “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal” without the enduring taint of hypocrisy.
Erica Verrillo is an author of fantasy, as is evident by this post. Her hold on reality is tenuous at best, but she still likes to imagine a better world. Visit her blog, Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity, for writing tips and useful publishing resources, or find her on Twitter @EricaVerrillo.