08:28 GMT12 May 2021
Listen Live
    Get short URL

    On Saturday people across the United States will be finding ways of celebrating Independence Day without the traditional Fourth of July fireworks or crowded street parties, because of the coronavirus. But in 2020 there are increasing doubts among ethnic minorities in the US that they should celebrate the country’s birthday.

    When President Donald Trump chose to kick off the traditional 4th of July holiday weekend with a firework display at the foot of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota it was a deliberate act of defiance.

    The famous carving of four US presidents into the side of a mountain in the Black Hills has always deeply offended the Sioux (Lakota) tribe, who considering the hills - known to them as Paha Sapa - to be sacred ground.

    ​Native American groups protested at Trump’s visit on Friday, 3 July, but they are not the only ethnicity in the United States whose feelings have been ignored by the establishment in Washington DC, which has always been overwhelmingly white.

    The “founding fathers” of the United States  - George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay, John and Samuel Adams (no relation) - were all white and descended from British settlers.

    Professor Gerald Horne, author of The Counter Revolution of 1776, has argued that American independence actually meant preserving the right to keep other enslaved.

    He may have a point because while the British Empire abolished the slave trade in 1807 and ended slavery altogether in 1833, the United States maintained slavery in its southern states until the 1860s and if the Confederacy had had its way it would never have been abolished.

    It could be argued by African-Americans today that if the US had not won independence from the British Empire their ancestors would have been freed from slavery a generation earlier.

    ​So why would black Americans want to celebrate an independence day which only  meant “freedom” for the white settlers of the original 13 colonies on the east coast?

    African slaves, and those descended from African slaves, continued to be shackled by their white masters in the southern six of those colonies - Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland.

    A boy cycles past US flags in the run up to the 4th of July celebrations in North Andover, Massachusetts.
    © AP Photo / Elise Amendola
    A boy cycles past US flags in the run up to the 4th of July celebrations

    Between 1774 and 1804 the northern states - including New York and Pennsylvania - abolished slavery, although it had never been widespread there because the climate did not suit the production of rice, cotton or tobacco, which were grown on southern plantations.  

    In an interview with the Zinn Education Project, Prof. Horne said: "What helped to prompt 4 July 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition."

    ​He said this perception was prompted by the case of James Somerset, an African slave who escaped while in London with his master, Charles Stewart.

    In 1772 a British court ruled Stewart could not forcibly take Somerset back to Jamaica and in his ruling the judge, Lord Mansfield, described the slave trade as "odious".

    Prof. Horne argues that Americans involved in the slave trade feared the legal ramifications of this judgement were "going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the mainland, thereby jeopardising numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade."

    Many African-Americans are now preferring to celebrate Juneteenth - 19 June - instead of 4 July. On that date in 1865 the last slaves - in Galveston, Texas - discovered they were free following the US Civil War.

    ​When the American War of Independence finally ended in 1783 and the British Army - the famous redcoats - left the 13 states to their fate, it was only the beginning of a nightmare for the Native American tribes and it would not augur well for the Mexicans either.

    Children wear face masks as they pick out fireworks in Omaha, Nebraska ahead of the 4th of July holiday.
    © AP Photo / Nati Harnik
    Children buying fireworks in the run up to 4th of July

    Between 1776 and 1887 the United States government seized 1.5 billion acres from the indigenous people, either by executive order or by treaties which were forced on the defeated tribes.

    The gradual encroachment westwards was boosted in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, when the US bought a huge slice of the continent from Napoleon’s France for US$15 million, ignoring the fact that the tribes who lived there - including the warlike Lakota - had never given it to the French in the first place.

    In 1819 the US also bought Florida from Spain for the bargain price of US$5 million and 11 years later President Andrew Jackson pushed through the Indian Removal Act, which removed thousands of Native Americans from the land on which they had lives for centuries - including the Seminole in Florida and the Cherokee from Georgia.

    The forcible removal to what is now Oklahoma became known as the “trail of tears” and up to half of the 16,000 Cherokee who were forced to march from Georgia - where gold had just been discovered - died on the way.  

    ​But the US government’s voracious appetite for land west of the Mississippi was still not sated.

    The westward conquests were supported by an official policy of “manifest destiny”, which was remarkably similar to Adolf Hitler’s lebensraum (living space) policy in eastern Europe in the 1940s.

    In fact Hitler once said: "There's only one duty: to Germanise this country [Russia] by the immigration of Germans and to look upon the natives as Redskins."

    The term “manifest destiny” was the idea that the United States was destined by God to expand its dominion across the entire continent, to the Pacific coast and the term was first coined in 1845 in an editorial published in the Democratic Review.

    ​In the article the writer criticised those who opposed the annexation of Texas and said it was part of “the fulfilment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

    In 1819, when the US bought Florida from Spain it had signed the Adams-Onis treaty which accepted the Viceroyalty of New Spain’s ownership of California, Texas and all the land in between.

    Mexico inherited this land claim from the viceroyalty when it became independent in 1821 but white settlers gradually moved into Texas and began demanding independence for the state.  

    ​In 1836 a band of white settlers in Texas died heroically at The Alamo, trying in vain to resist a siege by a massive Mexican Army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana.

    But Sam Houston raised a new army and, exhorting his soldiers to “remember the Alamo!”, he defeated Santa Ana and threw the Mexicans out of Texas.

    In 1845 the US formally annexed Texas, sparking a new war with Mexico.

    ​The US Army eventually invaded Mexico and totally defeated the Mexicans, leading to the 1849 Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo.

    Under this treaty the vanquished Mexicans were forced to hand over California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and even Wyoming and were forced to accept US overlordship in Texas.

    A decade later the Mexicans defeated a French attempt to conquer them and it is that victory which is celebrated on Cinco de Mayo (5 May).

    As for 4 July there is really very little to celebrate on that date for Mexican-Americans, African-Americans or Native Americans.

    British Empire, slavery, 4 july parade, Donald Trump, United States
    Community standardsDiscussion