After the capture at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, of the white abolitionist, John Brown — who believed that only an armed uprising would rid our nation of slavery, and led the bloody raid on the federal arsenal — a set of documents was recovered at his base of operations. One of them, composed by Brown and transcribed by his son on a long piece of cloth, was entitled, “A Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America.” Adapted from our July 4, 1776 Declaration, Brown authored this spin on our founding document to set forth abolitionists’ unequivocal views on why slavery must be ended at once. Brown writes in his declaration, “it is the highest Privilege, & Plain Duty of Man; to strive in evry reasonable way, to promote the Happiness, Mental, Moral, & Physical, elevation of his fellow Man,” and so he felt it incumbent to attempt to launch a revolt aimed at putting an end to slavery in the U.S.
A Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America, July 4, 1859
When in the course of Human events, it becomes necessary for an oppressed People to Rise, and assert their Natural Rights, as Human Beings, as Native and Mutual Citizens of a free Republic, and break that odious yoke of oppression, which is so unjustly laid upon them by their fellow countrymen, and to assume among the powers of Earth the same equal privileges to which the Laws of Nature, and nature’s God entitle, them; A moderate respect for the opinions of Mankind, requires that they should declare the causes which incite them to this Just & worthy action.
We hold these truths to be Self Evident; That all men are created Equal; That they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are Life, Liberty; & pursuit of happiness . . . .
The history of Slavery in the United States, is a history of injustice and cruelties inflicted upon the Slave in every conceivable way, and in barbarity not surpassed by the most savage Tribes. It is the embodiment of all that is Evil, and ruinous to a Nation; and subversive of all Good. In proof of which; facts innumerable have been submitted to the People, and have received the verdict and condemnation of a candid and Impartial World. Our Servants; Members of Congress; and other servants of the People, who receive exorbitant wages, from the People; in return for their unjust Rule, have refused to pass laws for the accommodation of large districts of People, unless that People, would relinquish the right of representation in the Legislation, a right inestimable of them, and formidable to tyrants only. Our President and other Leeches have called together legislative, or treasonable Bodies, at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of our public records; for the sole purpose of fatigueing us into compliance with their measures. They have desolved Representative houses, for opposing with manly firmness, their invasions of the rights of the people.
They have refused to grant Petitions presented by numerous and respectable Citizens, asking redress of grivances imposed upon us, demanding our Liberty and natural rights. With contempt they spurn our humble petitions; and have failed to pass laws for our relief. . . . They have abdicated government among us, by declaring us out of their protection, and waging a worse than cruel war upon us continually.
The facts and full description of the enormous sin of Slavery, may be found in the General History of American Slavery, which is a history of repeated injuries, of base hypocracy; A cursed treasonable, usurpation; The most abominable provoking atrocities; which are but a mockery of all that is Just, or worthy of any people. Such cruelty, tyrany, and perfidy, has hardly a parallel, in the history of the most barbarous ages.
Our Servants, or Law makers; are totally unworthy the name of Half Civilized Men. All their National acts, (which apply to slavery,) are false, to the words Spirit, and intention, of the Constitution of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence. . . .
In every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress, in the most humble terms, Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Class of oppressors, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyranical Despotism, is unfit to rule any People. Nor have we been wanting in attention, to our oppressors; We have warned them from time to time, of attempts (made by their headlong Blindness,) to perpetrate, extend, strengthen, and revive the dieing eliments of this cursed Institution. We have reminded them of our unhappy condition, and of their Cruelties. We have appealed to their native Justice and magnanimity, we have conjured them by the ties of our common nature, our Brotherhood, & common Parentage, to disavow these usurpations, which have destroyed our Kindred friendship, and endangered their safety. They have been Deaf to the voice of Justice & Consanguinity. We must therefore acquiece in the necessity, which denounces their tyrany & unjust rule over us. Declaring that we will serve them no longer as slaves, knowing that the “Laborer is worthy of his hire.” We therefore, the Representatives of the circumscribed citizens of the United States, of America in General Congress assembled, appealing to the supreme Judge of the World, for the rectitude of our intentions, Do in the name, & by authority of the oppressed Citizens of the Slave States, Solemnly publish and Declare: that the Slaves are, & of right ought to be as free & and independent as the unchangable Law of God, requires that All Men Shall be. That they are absolved from all allegiance to those Tyrants, who still presist in forcibly subjecting them to perpetual Bondage, and that all friendly connection between them & such Tyrants, is, & ought to be totally desolved, And that as free, & independent citizens of these states, they have a perfect right, a sufficient & just cause, to defend themselves against the tyrany of their oppressors. To solicit aid from & ask the protection of all true friends of humanity & reform, of whatever nation, & wherever found; A right to contract Alliances, & to do all other acts & things which free independent Citizens may of right do. And for the support of Declaration; with a firm reliance on the protection of Devine Providence; We mutually Pledge to each other, Our Lives, and Our Sacred Honor. Indeed; I tremble for my Country, when I reflect; that God is Just; And that his Justice; will not sleep forever &c. &c. Nature is morning for its murdered, and Afflicted Children. Hung be the Heavens in Scarlet.”
Source and image:
The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform, Stephen Mintz, John Stauffer, Eds., University of Massachusetts Press, 2007
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, Tony Horowitz, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2011
John Brown and His Men, Richard J. Hinton, Carlisle, MA: Applewood Books, 1894, (text of Declaration of Liberty on pp. 637-643)