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Who Best Represents the American Ideals?

November 3, 2017 by Herbert Daughtry

Part Three

History of Protests in America

We have seen that the Constitution gives the right to protest. The founding fathers could do no less – after all, America was born in protests. Its history ever since has been saturated with protests. There were many protests against the British Parliament’s taxes or acts, including the Molasses Act of 1733, the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765. These protests led to the Revolutionary War, which eventuated to America’s independence. At least, in this regards, the founding fathers were consistent. They were inconsistent, hypocritical, cowardly, and inhumane when it came to slavery. Nowhere is this indisputably demonstrated than in the life and relationship that Mr. Tadeusz Kościuszko had with the revolutionaries, especially Mr. Thomas Jefferson.

Mr. Kościuszko (February 4, 1746-October 15, 1817) was a Polish-Lithuanian military engineer and a military leader who became an American hero in the fight for independence. He received high praises from many of the founding fathers. General George Washington awarded him special honors. His contributions included helping to establish military academies, including West Point. He had a special relationship with Mr. Jefferson. He was adamantly opposed to slavery. He tried to persuade the founding fathers to end slavery. He argued with his friend, Mr. Jefferson, to free his slaves, highlighting Jefferson’s contradiction. How could he write that all men should be free when he was a slaveholder?

When Mr. Kościuszko was about to leave America, he collected his back pay. For years, he had not been paid for his service. He wrote a will and entrusted it to Mr. Jefferson as the executor. As I have stated, they had become “bosom buddies” by 1797, and continued to communicate with each other for 20 years. Mr. Jefferson wrote, “He is as pure as son of liberty as I have ever known.”

Here comes the good and the bad; the beautiful and the ugly; and, the courageous, and the cowardly. Mr. Kościuszko left a will. In it, he wanted his American estate to be sold to buy the freedom of Black slaves, including Mr. Jefferson’s own slaves and to educate them for independent life and work. Thus, we may have the first indication of an attempt at reparations or remunerations – although Mr. Kościuszko’s tried to liberate slaves and not keep them in bondage and exploit them. Of course, this happened long before General Sherman’s Field Order 40. I wish the story could have ended there with Mr. Kościuszko’s will consummated. Alas, it was not to be.

Several years after Mr. Kościuszko’s death, Mr. Jefferson, aged 77, argued that he was unable to act as the executor due to his age and the numerous legal perplexities of the bequest which was tied up in the courts until 1856. Mr. Jefferson recommended his friend, Mr. John Hartwell Cocke (who, in the spirit of Mr. Kościuszko, opposed slavery) as executor. Mr. Cocke, like Jefferson, declined to execute the bequest. The case of Mr. Kościuszko’s American estate went three times to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He had made four wills, three of which postdated the American one. None of the money that Mr. Kościuszko had earmarked for the manumission and education of African Americans in the United States was ever used for that purpose. Although the will was never fulfilled, its legacy went to found an educational institute for African Americans located in Newark, New Jersey in 1826 that bears his name.

Perhaps, another characterization could be added to the above regarding the founding fathers inconsistencies, contradictions, etc. Whatever happened to Kościuszko’s estate? Was it stolen? Did it just disappear?

I cannot help but reflect on the Supreme Court that it couldn’t decide on a will for three times. This Court is reminiscent of the Supreme Court in 1857, which held that Blacks had no rights which whites were bound to respect, and the Supreme Court in 1776 nullified the act of enforcement rendered by the Court in 1870. It is also reminiscent of the Supreme Court of 1898 in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case which paved the way for the legalization of segregation by ruling that there is such a thing as “separate but equal.” Now, here we are once again, and our right to vote is before the Supreme Court.

I hope the reader will pardon my lengthy excursion into history. It’s next to impossible for me to hold my pen to the subject matter when my mind is always obsessed when I view American history in all of its shame and ugliness, and at the same time, its actual and potential greatness.

Now, back to the subject of protests.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most famous protestors, has a holiday and a statue in his memory, and is the only civilian in American history with a national holiday named in his honor. Another famous protestor was Muhammad Ali. The world came to honor him. Even his critics referenced him in glowing terms of sacrifice and courage. It’s strange how we castigate, assault, and kill prophets and protestors, and then rear monuments in their memory.

… to be continued.