If you went to primary or secondary school in the US or watched any mainstream movie that discusses the past, you learned the white-washed patriotic uplifting (for some) story of people persecuted for their belief in a particularly oriented Christian God and their desire for liberty, freedom, and capitalism. To a certain extent, that narrative does have limited purchase – there was a desire for independence, freedom, and capitalism. Yet, that desire was predicated on claiming, occupying, and usurping land, enslaving kidnapped indigenous people from Africa, and then enforcing a coerced sexual labor of forced reproduction.
What were the experiences of the American revolutionary period before 1776, through the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and after the 1787 adoption of the Constitution, for Indigenous peoples on the continent, and Indigenous peoples kidnapped people from different tribes on the African continent?
This story of an ever-evolving, progressive, and enlightened nation bringing civilization to the "brutes" of the world continued through the 19th century and the US invasion of Mexico, known in the US as the US-Mexico War.
If we refuse to reproduce the myth of USian victimhood and take at face value that the Founding Fathers and their offspring were slave-owners, killed Indigenous people, and treated women as non-citizens, all the while claiming a devout Christian identity, then perhaps a more accurate rendering of pasts events, and the impacts these telling have on the present can be engaged with on more profound terms. This is the context of the book bannings and censorship of historical curriculums across the US.
These are some of the themes of The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America by historian Gerald Horne.
"The successful 1776 revolt against British rule in North America has been hailed almost universally as a great step forward for humanity. But the Africans then living in the colonies overwhelmingly sided with the British. In this trailblazing book, Gerald Horne shows that in the prelude to 1776, the abolition of slavery seemed all but inevitable in London, delighting Africans as much as it outraged slaveholders, and sparking the colonial revolt.
Prior to 1776, anti-slavery sentiments were deepening throughout Britain and in the Caribbean, rebellious Africans were in revolt. For European colonists in America, the major threat to their security was a foreign invasion combined with an insurrection of the enslaved. It was a real and threatening possibility that London would impose abolition throughout the colonies—a possibility the founding fathers feared would bring slave rebellions to their shores. To forestall it, they went to war.
The so-called Revolutionary War, Horne writes, was in part a counter-revolution, a conservative movement that the founding fathers fought in order to preserve their right to enslave others. The Counter-Revolution of 1776 brings us to a radical new understanding of the traditional heroic creation myth of the United States."
As David Waldstreicher wrote in an essay for theBoston Review, "The real revolutionaries, in other words, were the enslaved; the vaunted American Revolution was nothing less—or, nothing more—than a counter-revolution against the strivings of the truly oppressed of America and their budding alliance with the metropole. We don't have to wait for C. L. R. James's "Black Jacobins"—the focus of his 1938 study of the Haitian revolution—to find enslaved rebels rocking the new world. This was a stunning about-face from the conventional wisdom, and in some respects it was overstated."
In a follow-up tome published in 2019 that extends the argument Horne made in The Counter-Revolution of 1776 through the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries.
In The Counter-Revolution of 1836: Texas Slavery & Jim Crow and the Roots of U. S. Fascism, Horne reveals in detail that "When Mexico moved to abolish slavery, Texas seceded in 1836 – in a replay of 1776 – in order to perpetuate the enslavement of Africans. Until 1845 Texas was an independent nation and moved to challenge the U.S. for leadership in the odious commerce of the African Slave Trade: Texas also competed vigorously with the U.S. in the dirty business of denuding Mexico by snatching California in the race to the Pacific and domination of the vaunted China market.
But Texas could not withstand pressure from abolitionist Mexico and revolutionary Haiti and joined the U.S. as a state – under questionable legal procedures – in 1845. Thereafter Texas' enslaved population increased exponentially along with land grabs targeting Comanches, Caddo, and Kiowa – and other Indigenous nations – leading to staggeringly violent bloodshed."
Gerald Horne is the Moores Professor of History at the University of Houston and has written more than 40 books. His two latest books are The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism and The Dawning of the Apocalypse.
The Boston Review essay linked above is a good source for biographical background and intellectual genealogy, including the controversy over Horne's work in relation to Nicole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times's 1619 Project.