Slavery has always been a dark part of America’s history. It’s a dirty stain on the fabric of our nation’s freedom. It caused great suffering to millions of black slaves, and turned their white masters into brutish beasts. The fact that slavery happened here in America is tragic, but despite this, we can still learn a lot from it. 

As a young child, I learned about the slaves and all they went through, and questions would run through my head: “Why didn’t they just rise up and refuse to be treated like animals? How did a few overseers control a whole plantation of slaves? How did slave owners manage to keep their slaves in captivity when there were so many of them? What happened to the idea of strength in numbers?” Now that I’ve studied it more, I can tell you the answer: Knowledge and freedom go hand in hand, and without one, you can’t have the other. 

To see this more clearly, let’s look at the story of a particular slave: Frederick Douglass. After escaping to freedom, Frederick Douglass spent the rest of his life as an abolitionist, looking forward to the day when all men would be free and equal under the law. When Frederick was young, he was lucky to have a mistress that was kind enough to start educating him, although her husband soon found out and put an end to it. One thing that Frederick’s master said to his mistress stood out to him: “If you teach him (Frederick) to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” After hearing this, Frederick realized that education was the key to the cell of slavery he was trapped in. He wrote: “I now understood what had before been to me a most perplexing difficulty– to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

Thomas Jefferson said: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” The reason slaveholders were able to control and keep slaves was because they were uneducated. They only knew one thing: how to serve their masters. They hated being in slavery, but they didn’t know what it meant to be free. This was true for Frederick Douglass. It wasn’t until he started learning that he realized what was keeping him in bondage, and once the spark of knowledge started the burning fire of desire for freedom, there was nothing that could extinguish it.

This wasn’t just true for Frederick Douglass, it’s true for all of us. I’ve noticed that throughout my life, the more I’ve learned, and the more I’ve realized what’s going on in our world, I’ve realized that freedom is something precious that shouldn’t be thrown away lightly. It’s something that we are all endowed with that can’t be taken away without violating the laws of nature. It reminds me of a scripture in John 8:32: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

To have true freedom, we need truth. Today in America, we have millions of schools, funded with trillions of tax dollars. You could make the argument that the American people are pretty well educated, but it’s still surprising how many lies are floating around today, and it’s depressing how ignorant the American people are when it comes to certain topics. In subjects like math, science, and technology, we pass with flying colors, but when it comes to how to preserve freedom and defend the constitution, America gets a big fat F. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look at some of the findings from an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll in 2017:

  • 37% of people could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment. 
  • Only 26% could name all three branches of the government. 
  • 33% can’t name any branch of government. 

To make matters even worse, the vast majority of our legislators haven’t even read the constitution! 

How are we supposed to protect our rights if we don’t even know what they are? How are we supposed to catch the government overstepping its boundaries if we don’t know what those boundaries are? How can we trust our legislators to pass constitutional laws when most of them haven’t even read the constitution? It’s obviously time for Americans to wake up. 

If you haven’t read the constitution, that’s a great place to start. Take a look at the writings of the great men who founded our country. They knew a thing or two about freedom. Study the Bill of Rights, and understand what your freedoms are. Once you are educated in principles of freedom, you’ll start noticing the government infringing on your liberties right and left. You’ll be able to speak out and make a difference and urge others to do the same. 

Just like slaveholders were able to keep slaves because of their ignorance, our rights can only be violated when we remain ignorant. Slavery was a terrible thing, but we learn from it that knowledge is necessary for freedom. As long as we stay in the dark about principles of freedom, we’ll simply be slaves to a tyrannical government. And as soon as we take the time to learn about freedom, we’ll be able to break the chains holding us down and truly be free.