July 30, 2015

Today in History: First representative assembly in Jamestown (1619)

John RobsonResident Historian

July 30 is a great day for freedom and also a bleak one.

It’s a great day because on July 30 1619 the first representative assembly met in the New World, at Jamestown.

The colonists, ill-prepared as they were in almost every other way, brought with them sound principles of political philosophy and practice, and created a legislature despite starvation, disease and chaos because that’s what free Englishmen did, without needing or seeking permission.

It’s also a bleak day because in the same year in the same place the first black slaves were sold, and the commitment to liberty that created the House of Burgesses didn’t stop Virginians and then other southerners, and northerners, from also constructing markets where they bought and sold their fellow humans.

And for centuries to come, with baffling hypocrisy, the freest people in the world denied others the smallest share in liberty.

If they were monsters or American liberty were a fraud it would be easy to explain.

But the United States really is the land of the free and many of these people, if you had met them without yourself recognizing the evils of slavery, would have won your admiration for their courage, decency, even their generosity.

Contemplating this paradox ought to bring a little humility into our own lives.

We are tempted to think we have achieved total enlightenment by our good fortune in having been born in the present not the past.

But if genuinely good people could be blind to the horror and hypocrisy of racial slavery in their midst in their day, what might we overlook in our own that will horrify posterity?

After all, we are the same fallible humans they were.

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commented 2015-08-02 00:48:52 -0400
It’s frightening, to read The Road to Serfdom, written at the beginning of WWII, and see how so precisely we’re repeating history. This democracy that was established by Christian Conservatives is being replaced with a full fledged socialist country, tossing Christians in jail for their beliefs, charging men for expressing their opinions on Twitter, and those responsible are quite convinced, just like the slave-holders, that they’re “enlightened”. They, like Bev McLaughlin are committing “cultural genocide” the same as they accuse others of. Just like she stayed charges against a woman for hiring a hit man to kill her ex, ‘cause she still thinks women are “underdogs” and this will help to “make up for the past” and “level the playing field”. Even though it isn’t true, and the “ex” certainly had nothing to do with the history of North America. McLaughlin, rages about Native children being taken from their parents, all the while doing the same to kids in Family court. Children of divorce, who suffer all the same symptoms as rape victims – unable to hold jobs, or relationships, more likely to engage in substance abuse, get divorced themselves and end up incarcerated. Yet the courts continue to dole out sole custody, ‘cause it “puts the woman in charge” which helps to “level the playing field” and “make up for the past”. This, despite the fact that sole custody has been illegal in Canada since April 17, 1985 (the courts are ignoring it, pretending the Human Rights Act "doesn’t apply" to divorce laws). Can you picture a “Truth and Reconciliation” demanded by children of divorce say, 50 yrs from now?
commented 2015-07-31 11:56:41 -0400
The absence of slavery at various times, in various places throughout history is more to be marveled at.
commented 2015-07-30 21:32:25 -0400
We white people in Canada and the USA always take the blame for slavery but we are never given the credit for ending it. If the north had not won the Civil War we would still have black people for sale on the shopping channel. We stand tall and walk proud.
commented 2015-07-30 17:14:34 -0400
The worst thing about the liberal left isn’t that they never question their own beliefs or fallibility – they don’t, the worst thing about the lefty liberal is, it doesn’t occur to them to question their beliefs or fallibility.
"…In school we learn only that Canada-the-good served as a kind of Holy Land for persecuted slaves who escaped from a barbaric U.S.A.. This has created an unjustified belief in our moral superiority.
For around the year 1780 there were an estimated 4,000 blacks living in the Canadian British colonies, of whom about 1,800 were slaves. Canada’s first anti-slavery law (of sorts), of July 9, 1793, did not exactly outlaw slavery. It was called “An Act to Prevent the Future Introduction of Slaves.” In other words, slavery would remain legal – but no more slaves could be imported to Canada…"
commented 2015-07-30 14:03:00 -0400
Excellent point, John!

I like these historical clips you do. You always apply them to today, which is, I guess, the duty of a good historian.

Eagerly awaiting your Magna Carta documentary!
commented 2015-07-30 13:22:54 -0400
Good point John, really good point.
commented 2015-07-30 12:01:08 -0400
Unfortunately John slavery still exists in Africa, the Middle East and Asia and was practiced by the Germans and Russians in last world war. We in the so called enlightened west still condone the mass murder of unborn humans will in the future be judge to be savages or I ask will there be a future.
Enlightened Conservative 1948