Finding Hope in Radical History on July 4th

Posted by Matt on Jul 4th 2019

For generations of American changemakers, our country's idealistic origins have held the key to its renewal. We put together a quiz to remind people about America's radical roots.

Deep within the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., there is an old copy of the Declaration of Independence lying beneath a thick glass case.

At first glance, the archival version looks like all the other copies of the Declaration of Independence — until you get to the list of grievances against King George III, where there's a little piece of language inserted with one of those ^ symbols, and then ever so delicately crossed out.

It's a denunciation of human slavery, written by Thomas Jefferson himself, but left out of the final document as part of a compromise with colonists from the American South:

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither..."

The 4th of July and America

If you were looking for a way to sum up America and all of its contradictions, this piece of deleted material from the Declaration of Independence would be a good place to start.

Photo Credit: jqpubliq (Flickr)

For one, there's the irony that Jefferson — a slave owner who fathered six children out of wedlock with a woman, Sally Hemings, whom he kept as his personal property — could have written with such urgency about slavery's horrors.

Then there's the more obvious fact that the passage was never published — one of countless moral compromises made in order to bring the South and its slavery-dependent economy on board in the founding of the United States.

It's easy to be cynical about all this, and to reject America's origin story — that we are indeed a country built upon the noble principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all — as pure fantasy.

But there's also another version of the American story, one in which generations of reformers have latched on to those very same principles, while fighting to bring the reality of America more in line with the lofty self-image of our founding.

From Frederick Douglass, who wondered why the words he taught himself to read in America's founding documents didn't yet apply to the Americans born into slavery; to Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested for trying to become the first woman to vote in a presidential election, the idealism of American democracy has long provided the moral foundation for each campaign to improve upon it.

It's this history — America's Radical History — which inspires us here at Radical Tea Towel. And we believe the Fourth of July should be a day to celebrate it.

That's why this year, we created a little quiz to help people (re)discover some of the radical individuals and movements that have made our country what it is:

Take the quiz and test your knowledge of Radical US History

As an extra incentive, for everyone who finishes all 20 questions we're offering a 15 percent discount, which can be used anywhere on our US site.

We hope you'll give it a try over the next few days (here's a free hint for Question 12):

Phillis Wheatley Tea Towel

Above: Our design honoring Phillis Wheatley - one of the earliest American radicals

American History is Radical History

As we gaze at the spectacle of authoritarian vanity being put on in Washington today to appease our wannabe dictator president, it’s more important than ever to remember that the real spirit of July 4th is progressive to its core.

Because for all of the ways in which our founders may have come up short, the source code they wrote for America has always offered a road map for those who push this country to be a better version of itself.

Whatever you're doing to celebrate the 4th, let's salute all of the American changemakers and radicals from the past, present, and future who have answered — and will continue to answer — that call.

From all of us at Radical Tea Towel: Happy Independence Day!

Try our Radical US History quiz - and take 15 percent off any item in our store