Who’d have thought the abolition of slavery could be such a divisive subject in 2021?
President Biden signed legislation last Thursday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. As a result, June 19 is now officially the national day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. It’s wonderful news, but some aren’t pleased about it. Though the bill gained overwhelming bipartisan support, fourteen House Republicans voted against the Juneteenth legislation. Turning Point USA chief Charlie Kirk claimed that Juneteenth as a federal holiday is an ideological “affront” to the Fourth of July. Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Juneteenth “a new independence day to supplant the old one.”
They’ve completely missed the point.
The history behind Juneteenth is crucial to remember, and the importance of the abolishment of slavery for the success of the ideals of the American Revolution can not be overstated.
The abolition of slavery was the most significant step in manifesting the core values of the United States and the libertarian principle of self-ownership. Juneteenth is the celebration of slaves’ emancipation from government-imposed racism. It’s a constant reminder that the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness consists of a lengthy fight over generations for freedom.
These principles lay enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founding document. In a rough draft of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson called them “sacred & undeniable”: that all men are created “equal & independent”; that “from that equal creation,” all have the rights “to the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.” The passage represents our nation’s core moral and philosophical goals—values we’ve been striving for ever since.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which freed 3.5 million slaves was a momentous step forward in that regard. However, the road to freedom post-war was uncertain. To safeguard the Proclamation from legal challenges and make it federally enforceable, Congress sent the Thirteenth Amendment to the states for ratification in 1865.
Even after the amendment was ratified, freeing the slaves was a slow process. Word didn’t reach everywhere promptly. Many plantation owners refused to free their slaves without the coercion of the Union soldiers. Juneteenth marked the official proclamation of abolition in the last holdout of the Confederacy in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865—the end of slavery.
Yet the struggle for liberty remained then, and it remains to this day. Tragically, even after the Emancipation, the Jim Crow laws marginalized black communities and mass incarcerations. Then, the war on drugs followed Jim Crow laws, disproportionately affecting those marginalized communities. Now, gun control laws, lack of school choice, and high taxes on businesses are still threatening the well being of the African-American population in the U.S.
The struggle is necessary and good. Frederick Douglass reminds us if there is no struggle, there is no progress. We celebrate our nationhood on the Fourth of July. The day commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Yet, we must remember the reason why we celebrate the 4th of July. We built this nation to preserve life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness for all. Juneteenth marks a milestone in that quest and serves as a memorial to the struggle for freedom.
Slavery in the Western Hemisphere predates the founding of the American colonies, but it didn’t last long once we arrived. That’s something all Americans should agree is worth celebrating.