APPEAL TO THE COLORED CITIZENS OF THE WORLD BY DAVID WALKER
This paper seeks to analyze, evaluate, and summarize the David Walker’s book ‘Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World’, which was written by a famous African-American anti-slavery activist and abolitionist David Walker. The book was first published in 1930. The paper will also examine whether Walker was trying to subvert the principles on which the United States was founded. In addition, this study will compare the Declaration of Independence and Walker’s Appeal in terms of radicalism, logics, and relation to the American Revolution.
Generally, the book David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World is an influential social and political document of the 19th century that calls for self-help and black unity in the fight against injustice and oppression. This work pays significant attention to inequalities and abuses of slaves and the obligation of people to act responsibly for the racial equity according to political, ethical, social, and religious tenets. The book was inspired by the success of slave uprising in Haiti led by Toussaint Louverture. From this encouraging example, Walker understood that it is possible to fight slavery and that there is a way out even in the most complicated situations. The Appeal is not only about the moral wickedness of whites and freedom for blacks. It is also a reflection of religious anthropology of human nature in general and his vision of personhood in particular.
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David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World contains four interrelated articles. Article 1 “Our Wretchedness in Consequence of Slavery” depicts the main characteristics of black people’s oppression under slavery and states that blacks should resist their white oppressors even by using force if necessary. Article 2 “Our Wretchedness in Consequence of Ignorance” states that the ignorance and inactivity of black people is a key barrier to the consolidated fight against inequality and racial injustice. Article 3 “Our Wretchedness in Consequence of the Preachers of the Religion of Jesus Christ” describes concrete ways in which the white people exploit the slave system illegally and unethically. Article 4 “Our Wretchedness in Consequence of the Colonizing Plan” is a verbal attack on the American Colonization Society scheme of repatriation of free black people back to Africa. Walker states that the single motive behind this plan is the promotion of slavery on the American continent as all the free black people will be away.
It is important to mention that the Appeal is not a formal treatise but rather a manifesto and a rallying cry for change. However, when the Appeal first appeared, it was considered the most aggressive, anti-slavery document that had ever been published. Filled with sarcasm and vitriol, laments and indignation, its rhetoric suggests that it was not created for private-read but rather for a grand oral presentation to the audience.
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Walker significantly challenges white Americans with his Appeal, stating that the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which is considered to be one of the key laws of the country, does not actually function. In other words, the document proclaims the rights that do not exist in reality; however, nobody cares about that. In particular, he states that the following excerpt from Declaration of Independence is not implemented on practice: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Walker is not satisfied with current situation in terms of the state’s racial and ethnic policy and he clearly points that in his “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” in the following way: “Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us-men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation!”. Walker also forced Americans to think about the meaning of the following words addressed both to white and black people in the Declaration of Independence: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government”. Through this excerpt, Walker wanted to show Americans that they might face the truth relied by their own legal document. The whites subjected the blacks to “cruelties and murders,” while the second had “never given” them any provocation. These words characterize Walker as a truly radical person, but he could not act in any other way or with less extent of radicalism because otherwise his voice would not have been heard and therefore would have no meaning both for the white and black population of the US. In a similar way, many people regarded Walker’s writings as overtly racist as sometimes he characterized the whites as blood-thirsty, avaricious, unmerciful, jealous, and unjust individuals that only seek authority and power. However, this statement often corresponded to the truth, and Walker, being black, also felt this attitude “on own skin.” In these conditions, his reaction was logical: being unsatisfied with current situation and seeing that peaceful and ethical measures did not work, he encouraged blacks in his works “to crash the arm of power,” American Constitution and “a murderous government.”
Comparatively speaking, the Declaration of Independence and the Appeal have many common features: both promote the equality of people in the face of the law and define the rights according to which one should live in the society. They both describe certain rules of living in the community and reflect certain American values and traditions. Besides, two of them are written in the strong revolutionary tone and have similar organization. It can even be stated that the Appeal was a logical extension of the principles of the American Revolution (it encouraged the independency of the US, promoted equal rights for everybody, and stimulated to eliminate the tyranny). At the same time, the Declaration and the Appeal have many distinctive features. For example, the latter is finished with the caution (if the whites do not change their moral, ethical and legal attitude towards the black people, the latter will struggle and rebel to achieve equality and the deserved rights). In other words, Walker pointed that slavery will not end on its own and that it needs immediate abolition as a democratic country like the United States should respect the rights and freedoms of all its citizens regardless of race, gender or social status.
Walker continuously criticizes and challenges Thomas Jefferson as the actions of the latter are a classic example of Revolutionary Era contradictions. On the one hand, he was one of the chief authors of Declaration of Independence, while on the other hand, he also owned slaves. Jefferson claimed that basing on his observation of the slaves he can state that black people are much inferior to the whites. He claimed that they are scientifically not able to improve their mental skills to achieve the intellectual level of the whites. Walker clearly pointed that the above-mentioned comparisons are unjust and they have no real scientific proof. Despite the earlier mentioned fact, Jefferson was ready to criticize slavery much more than the majority of his colleagues.
Moreover, the president’s original draft of the Declaration had a long passage that condemned in many ways the fact that King George allowed the slave trade to develop and flourish. Walker compares black people with Americans who rose up against their tyrannical British oppressors to secure their natural rights of the pursuit of happiness, liberty, and life. Americans won their right for freedom and created a powerful and independent country where everybody is equal. Afterwards, the world praised them for their fight with oppressors and accepted this new nation on the world arena. Black people are in a very similar situation, however they do not want to create a new country, they just wish to be accepted into American society and to be granted their legal rights, just as everyone else. In these conditions, Walker was not trying to subvert the principles on which the United States was founded; he just wanted the legal existing laws to be executed on practice. As a Christian, the author also blames Americans for the fact that, as a nation that considers itself Christian, they not only allowed but also promoted slavery on the territory of the whole country. He states that it is against the word of God to treat people as non-human property that could be sold, bought or disposed of at will. According to Walker’s point of view, slavery in the United States is the worst and the cruelest in the world history. In particular, Walker pointed in the text that even though slavery existed for centuries in different parts of the world (“Israelites in Egypt,” “Helots in Sparta”), no other group of human beings on the globe suffered as much as the colored people of the United States.
Despite numerous negative facts, Walker had optimistic attitude towards the future and believed that one day oppression will be lifted, making black people happy and free. His attitude also displays resentment, disregard, contempt, and courage towards the whites and hopefulness, weariness, conviction, and bravery towards the blacks. Such an argumentative approach allowed him to become an instigator of abolitionists and a great leader. His statements provided further reassurance among his black readers, while his observations and statements to take immediate action most effectively reached his white readers, causing significant stress and uneasiness among them. Walker is neither sociologically nor politically naïve as he perfectly understands that the total realization of freedom does not only depend on the actions of blacks even if the main condition of their freedom is to gain certain meaning in the world.
In conclusion, Walker’s Appeal accomplished the range of important goals. First, it focused the attention on the hypocrisy of white Americans by specifying the contradiction between realities of life under slavery and the ideals of the Revolution. Second, it debunked the range of the racist myths related to pro-slavery ideology through pointing on the achievements of outstanding Black women and men (he uses the example of revolutionary hero Crispus Attucks to support his opinion). Third, it promoted the unification of people of African descent against their oppressors and helped to organize the new revolutionary movement for equality and racial justice. Finally, David Walker made a huge contribution with the Appeal to the Colored Citizens as he promoted blacks to the fight with slavery for justice and equality both in the United States and the world. His book is topical both in the short-term and long-term perspectives. Moreover, it became a good basement and inspiration for several generations of black leaders of different social backgrounds, including Malcolm X, Doctor Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnet, and many others. In addition, the analysis of Walker’s personality as well as his pamphlet serves appeared to be a good lesson of history and gives an opportunity to understand the American present much better.