The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America led to the creation of a new nation and changed not only the course of British and American history, but affected the world as a whole. This document discusses the political motivation for the establishment of a new Union and lays down the purpose and principles on which each government should be instituted. The great importance of the Declaration is also supported by the fact that, while drafting the document, the founding fathers specified that all men are created equal and each person has a right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. These ideas became a cornerstone upon which the new state and democracy were built. However, considering the existence of slavery, it took a long time until all people in the country, irrespective of the color of their skin. could enjoy the equality mentioned and defended by the Declaration.
In the beginning of the 19th century, under the threat of being persecuted for his radical views, David Walker, a prominent activist for the rights of colored people,, took the courage to demonstrate the contradictions of the current social and political order with the Declaration of Independence, as well as the brutality and coercion of white Americans in respect to the colored population. He has also urged the people of color to fight for the abolition of slavery, defend their rights, which were proclaimed as unalienable in the document, and establish true equality, which was so passionately defended by the American people during the War for Independence, when they were fighting the British Crown.
Thus, in 1829, Massachusetts Walker published a rather radical document called the David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, where he tried to raise awareness and self-determination of colored people, and alongside questioned the compliance of American way of life with Christian values, they claimed to respect.
The document consists of the Preamble and 4 Articles, where the author analyzes the reasons and consequences of slavery, as well as the ways to abolish it and restore justice and liberty to all men irrespectively of their race. The majority of the arguments, however, were based on religious and historical facts, which allowed for a comparative analysis of the critical situation that the rights of the colored population in the United States were in. In particular, Walker paid special attention to the comparison of slavery and the realities of African-American people with those, suffered by the nations and heroes from Bible during the ancient times before the Christianity finally took shape as a religion we know today.
Thus, according to Walker, the colored population of the United States appeared to be in the worst situation imaginable. Referring to the Bible, he gives an example of a far more humane treatment of the sons of Jacob by the Pharaoh of Egypt, and than discusses the attitudes of Americans towards the colored and enslaved people. In particular, he indicates that, in spite of the right of every men to liberty proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, black men and women in America were deprived of any chance to get their freedom or ever be married to a white person.
He also supported his arguments with historical facts, appealing to the Roman Empire where the law provided a clear and realistic procedure for slaves to obtain their freedom, as well as considered the possibility that a formerly enslaved person would climb the social ladder and later enjoy all the rights of free men. In America, however, the whole system was built on hindering the ability of the colored population to get freedom, as well as prohibiting them from holding an office in any of the Governmental agencies, thus making the condition of American slaves far worse than that of the Roman ones.
The Declaration clearly defines the right to Life as a fundamental right of every person as given by God, and listing it in the first place underlined its superiority over all other rights. Nevertheless, David Walker in his Appeal has demonstrated that this right was not properly protected by the Government and, on numerous occasions, was violated in respect to the colored population. For instance, the law of the beginning of the 19th century in the United States provided that the master had the power to decide on a way to treat his slaves, as well as allowed to take full control over their life and fate, resulting in a great number of victims who were enormously oppressed.
Addressing the compliance of the American people with the principle of equality recognized in the text of the Declaration, Walker referred to the words of Thomas Jefferson who has declared the inferiority of the colored population to white people in the body and mind. Besides, he questioned if people with the black color of skin should be recognized as animals rather than men, given their ‘unfortunate’ distinctions and qualifications.
In particular, the author of the Appeal draws the attention to Jefferson’s remark on the enslaved people of Rome, who had extraordinary talents and some, being well educated, often taught children different sciences and arts. This, however, was possible only due to their natural qualities and belonging to the white race and was not affected by their enslaved condition. This assertion, as Walker writes, fully undermines the fundamental value of equality and drops a categoric shadow on the abilities of the whole race of people with the black color of skin.
Another right, mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is the right to the pursuit of happiness. It was also greatly restricted among the members of the colored population. Although the notion of happiness does not have a strict definition, David Walker indicates that lives of people with the black color of skin were far below those of the lowest, most unfortunate classes. In particular, he uses an example of his dialogue with one man he met on the streets, who defined himself as a happy person through having loads of boots and shoes to clean.
The Declaration states that the mankind is disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable. However, when the coercion becomes unbearable and safety and happiness can no longer be enjoyed due to the despotism of the government or people who represent it, the text of the document provides that it is a right and a duty for the people to oppose and provide new guarantees for the protection of their basic rights. The same point is also addressed by David Walker, who, by recalling extreme discrimination, cruelty, and dominance over the lives of black people, urges the readers of his Appeal to mobilize their efforts in fighting for liberation and pursue happiness by working for the salvation of body and mind.Additionally, the author underlines that happiness and self-determination of the colored population can be achieved by fighting ignorance and striving for enlightenment. Thus, Walker calls for the people to remember that the aim of their labor and hard work must be in dissemination of education and religion. He also provides that people with the black color of skin are in fact deprived of the opportunity to learn and apply their knowledge to get more rights and humane treatment. As an example, he recalls the conversation with one man who mentioned wanting a descent education of his son, but at the same time has recognized that it is limited only to the basics of writing and reading. Next, he refers to his examination of the children of color who went to schools in various states across the country and the fact that only one third of them could correctly answer his questions. Finally, the author challenges any person to find a representative of a the people of color, who was taught grammar or sciences in school in addition to neat writing.
Walker puts the blame for this total ignorance of people with the black color of skin on the white people and the Government, who took control over African Americans in this way, so that they could use the colored population in their own interest. For instance, the Appeal provides a quote of a young man who mentions that not only the master, but also the school committee, prohibited colored children to learn grammar, while white children had full access to knowledge. As a result, Walker states that the whole system is built in such a way as to preserve inequality and dominance of the white, educated Americans over people of color and to make the latter believe they were created to be slaves.
The Appeal of David Walker became one of the most important documents that raised awareness and self-esteems of the people of color in the United States. It has dropped a shadow on the legality and morality of slavery, questioned the power of religion among Americans, and demonstrated that the rights of every person, recognized in the Declaration of Independence, are not protected equally for white and black people. Nevertheless, this critique of the existing legal and social order was recognized by many as dangerous and radical, posing a threat to the institution of slavery and the wealth of slaveholders. Additionally, the document could mobilize the colored population to rise and become engaged in fighting for their rights through revenge and violence. This is why Walkers was severely opposed by white people.
However, the aim of David Walker was not to spread the call for violent revolutionary actions against white people and the government, but rather to achieve liberty and true equality between all men, which were recognized by the founding fathers in 1776. In particular, the author underlined that black people had the same rights as white in governing themselves. He stated that America was their country too, since black people enriched it with their hard work and blood. For this reason, he warned black people to avoid attempts to get their freedom until they saw that the path was clear. He wanted them to be ready to move when the time came. With this call to ‘move’ he promoted learning, self-perfection, and building skills that could prove that the black race was not inferior to the white.
Based on the reasons stated above, it is logical to conclude that the Appeal served as an extension to the Declaration of Independence and completed the general understanding of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, showing that these rights are applicable to all men who live in the United States, irrespective of their race. At the same time, David Walker challenged the true nature of the values upon which the United States of America was built by listing the facts of coercive treatment of the colored population and recognition of the latter as an inferior race. As a result, the document revealed the imperfections of the social and political order and played one of the central roles in the development of democracy and equality in the United States.