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2013 May 27

Ignorance is Slavery
In the late 18th century, the British Crown imposed several unpopular taxes on its
North American colonies to help pay its accumulated debt. The colonies in North
America revolted against the British Crown and declared its independence. In order to
justify the rebellion, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to express
the colonies grievances. Jefferson championed the ideas of equality for all men, liberty,
and the right to resist tyranny in the Declaration. Several decades later in the early 19th
century, David Walker, a free black, authored the Appeal in which he denounces the
tyranny of white American Christians and calls for a slave revolt in the South. As radical
as the Appeal may seem, David Walker championed liberty to the extent .
In order for a cause, rebellion, or idea to be valid, it must be justified. Thomas
Jefferson took heed as he drafted the Declaration of Independence by strategically
opening the document with the statement, When in the course of human events, it
becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands, which have connected
them with another a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they
should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.1 Jefferson continues and
provides a list of colonial grievances. Jefferson found it necessary to explain the colonies
situation and His Majestys crimes against liberty in order to justify the rebellion.
Likewise, in his Appeal, David Walker promises, to demonstrate to the satisfaction of
the most incredulous, that we (coloured people), are the most wretched, degraded and
abject set of beings that ever lived since the world began2 The entire Appeal describes
the horror of slavery and the atrocities committed by the slave owners. Walker uses his

appeal to justify his call to arms against the white Americans as Jefferson has done so
against the British. By specifying the encroachments on liberty, Jefferson and Walker
justify the use of force against the opposing powers.
Whenever liberty is at stake, any means of force is reasonable and legal according
to the Declaration of Independence. In fact, Walkers call for a revolt actually meets the
criteria that the Declaration established for overthrowing a government. The Declaration
states, Governments, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that
whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the
people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government3 When the colonists
claimed that the Crown was being oppressive, the Declaration justified their attempt to
rebel and establish a new government in order to secure liberty. Although it is selfevident, the American government contradicts itself as it has now become an oppressive
government and it does not have the consent of the governed black slaves. Walker states,
white Americans having reduced us to the wretched state of slavery, treat us in that
condition more cruel than any heathen nation did any people whom it reduced to our
population.4 Black slaves do not consent to such treatment and to their enslavement;
thus, according to the Declaration, black slaves have every right to revolt and create a
new government in order to obtain liberty. Considering all of these facts, the revolt is a
legal extension of the American Revolution.
Walkers radical call to arms in the name of liberty is a logical because the
difficulties that slaves faced were more brutal than the conditions colonists faced. In the
Declaration, there exists a lengthy list of His Majestys crimes against his colonial
subjects. The majority of the crimes are political and judicial injustices committed against

the colonists. For example, one of the Kings crimes is imposing taxes on us (colonists)
without our consent5 and another includes depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits
of trail by jury.6 Such were the crimes of the Crown against liberty, which provoked one
of the most important revolutions in history and the Declaration of Independence. These
crimes were mediocre compared with the atrocities the colonists committed against the
black slaves. Unlike the politically oppressed colonists, black slaves faced physical,
emotional, physiological, and political oppression. As Walker exclaims, show me a man
of colour, who holds low office of Constable, or one who sits in a Juror Box, even on a
case of one of his wretched brethren, through out this great Republic.7 Unlike the white
colonists, black slaves never had ANY rights or liberties to begin with. Even during the
war, neither the British nor colonists treated each other so brutally as the colonists treated
the blacks on a regular basis. Walker asks, How would they (whites) like for us to make
slaves of, and hold them in cruel slavery, and murder them as they do to us.8 Whites
never faced oppression on same level, which was bestowed upon the slaves. Hence,
Walker realized that it is best to fight fire with fire; hence, Walkers radical approach was
necessary to free black slaves from the brutality of the slave owners.
Walker not only tried to liberate his fellow brethren from slavery, but he also
attempted to deliver them from ignorance, which kept them enslaved. Liberty is not a gift
and it is not free. It must be fought for and taken by force, as with the American
Revolution. Walker recognized that ignorance was a weapon that the whites used with
great zeal. He states, It is a notorious fact, that the major part of white Americans
havetried to keep us ignorant, and make us believe that God made us and our children
to be slaves to them and theirs.9 By preventing blacks from becoming educated, the

whites not only kept them unable to fight for their freedom, but kept the blacks divided.
Walker notes, ignorant and treacherous creatures (coloured people) sneaking about in
large citiesare in league with tyrants scandalously deliver [other blacks] into the
hands of our natural enemies!!!!!!10 This division ruined any chance of a successful
slave uprising as individual slaves cared less about the welfare and freedom of other
slaves. This natural but ignorant instinct hindered any chance of liberty for all slaves,
including the individuals slaves themselves. As long as the blacks were ignorant, white
Americans were able to keep them enslaved.
A central idea that contributed to American Revolution was the idea that God
created men equal and free; however, the colonists ignored these rights when it came to
blacks. Instead of preaching freedom and peace, American Christian slave owners used
the Bible to encourage slavery and obedience, ignoring the other messages, which might
contradict slavery. Walker reveals, our Reverendtold usthat slaves must be obedient
to their masters must do their duty or be whipped 11 When slaves attempted to
worship the gospel that is of peace and not of blood and whips,12 American whites
would burst upon them and drag them out and commence beating them as if they would
rattlesnakes.13 These savage acts committed by the whites greatly contradicted both the
Declaration and the Bible. When Walker calls for a slave uprising, he refers to the Bible
and to God given rights, just as the colonists have done so in the Declaration and the
Revolution. Although it may seem that he is radical when he states The man who would
not fight in the glorious and heavenly cause of freedom and of God ought to be kept
with his family, in slavery, or in chains, to be butchered by his cruel enemies,14 it is
actually rational since slaves are kept in such deplorable conditions anyways. Blacks

must do what they can in order to gain God given liberty, no matter how radical it may

To comfort themselves, the slave owners convinced themselves that blacks were
morally inferior to whites, thus, they were not equal as under the Consititution. You
have to prove to the Americans and the world, that we are MEN, not brutes, as we have
been represented, and by millions treated.(32)


1 Thomas Jefferson, etc. Yale Law School, "Declaration of Independence." Last modified 1878. Accessed May 31, 2013. 1.
2 David Walker. Appeal. (Pennsylvania: Penn State University, 2008), 9.
3 Jefferson, "Declaration of Independence", 1.
4 Walker, Appeal, 9.
5 Jefferson, "Declaration of Independence", 1.
6 Jefferson, "Declaration of Independence", 1.
7 Walker, Appeal, 10.
8 Walker, Appeal, 14.
9 Walker, Appeal, 36.
10 Walker, Appeal, 25-25.
11 Walker, Appeal, 41.
12 Walker, Appeal, 41.
13 Walker, Appeal, 39.
14 Walker, Appeal, 14-15.