Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Missing Fathers by Eduardo Galeano

The Declaration of Independence affirmed that all men were created equal.

Shortly thereafter, the Constitution of the United States clarified the concept: it established that each slave was worth three-fifths of a person.

One drafter of the Constitution, Gouverneur Morris, opposed this provision, but in vain. Not long before he had tried, also in vain, to get the State of New York to abolish slavery, and managed to extract a constitutional promise that in the future "every being who breaths the air of this State shall enjoy the privileges of a freeman."

Morris, a central figure at the moment the United States acquired a face and a soul, was a founding father that history forgot.

In the year 2006, Spanish journalist Vicente Romero looked for his grave. He found it behind a church in the South Bronx. The gravestone, erased by rain and sun, provided a platform for two large garbage cans.

Robert Carter was buried in the garden.

In his will he asked "to be laid under a shady tree, where he might be undisturbed, and sleep in peace and security. No stone, nor inscription."

This Virginian patrician was one of the richest, if not the richest, of all the prosperous landowners who broke ties with England.

Although several other founding fathers looked askance at slavery, none of them freed their slaves. Carter was the only one to unchain the four hundred and fifty blacks he owned "to allow them to live and work according to their own will and pleasure." He freed them seventy years before Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery, and did so gradually, taking care that none was simply turned out and deserted.

Such folly condemned him to solitude and oblivion.

He was cut off by his friends, his neighbors, and his family, all of who were convinced that free blacks were a threat to personal and national security.

Later on, his acts were rewarded with collective amnesia.


  1. Beethoven

    He had a prison-like childhood and believed in freedom as a religion.

    That is why he dedicated his Third Symphony to Napoleon and then erased the dedication,

    he invented music with no thought to what people might say,
    he mocked the princes,
    he lived in perpetual disagreement with everyone,
    he was alone and he was poor, and he had to move house seventy times.

    And he hated censorship.

    In the Ninth Symphony, the censors changed the title "Ode to Freedom", taken from the poet Friedrich von Schiller, to "Ode to Joy."

    At the debut of the Ninth in Vienna, Beethoven took revenge. He conducted the orchestra and the chorus with such unbridled energy that the censored "Ode" became a hymn to the joy of freedom.

    After the piece ended, he stood with his back to the audience, until someone turned him around and he could see the ovation he could not hear.


  2. Goya

    In 1814 Ferdinand VII posed for Francisco de Goya. There was nothing unusual in that. Goya, court painter for the Spanish Crown, was doing a portrait of the new monarch. But the artist and king detested each other.

    The king suspected, and with good reason, that Goya's court paintings were disingenuously kind. The artist had no choice but to do the job that earned him his daily bread and provided an effective shield against the enmity of the Holy Inquisition. There was no lack of desire on God's tribunal to burn alive the creator of "La Maja desnuda" and numerous other works that mocked the virtue of priests and the bravery of warriors.

    The king had power and the artist had nothing. It was to reestablish the Inquisition and the privileges of nobility that Ferdinand came to the throne on the shoulders of a crowd cheering:

    "Long live chains!"

    Sooner rather than later, Goya lost his job as the king's painter and was replaced by Vicente Lopez, an obedient bureaucrat with a brush.

    The unemployed artist then took refuge in a country home on the banks of the Manzanares River, and on the walls he created the masterpieces known as the Black Paintings.

    Goya painted them for himself, for his own pleasure and displeasure, in nights of solitude and despair. By the light of candles bristling on his hat, this utterly deaf man managed to hear the broken voices of his time and give them shape and color.