The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE ACTS OF THE FATHERS

THE revolt of the colonists from British rule was not inspired originally by abstract enthusiasm for the rights of man. It was rather a demand for the chartered rights of British subjects, according to the liberal principles set forth by Locke and Chatham and Burke and Fox; a demand pushed on by the self-asserting strength of communities become too vigorous to endure control from a remote seat of empire, especially when that control was exercised in a harsh and arbitrary spirit. The revolutionary tide was swelled from various sources: by the mob eager to worry a red-coated sentry or to join in a raid under Indian disguise; by men who embodied the common sense and rough energy of the plain people, like Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine; by men of practical statesmanship, like Franklin and Washington, who saw that the time had come when the colonists could best manage their own affairs; and by generous enthusiasts for humanity, like Jefferson and Patrick Henry.

With the minds of thoughtful men thoroughly wakened on the subject of human rights, it was impossible not to reflect on the wrongs of the slaves, incomparably worse than those against which their masters had taken up arms. As the political institutions of the young Federation were remolded, so grave a matter as slavery could not be ignored. Virginia in 1772 voted an address to the King remonstrating against the continuance of the African slave trade.

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