Slavery, Propaganda, and the American Revolution

Slavery, Propaganda, and the American Revolution

Slavery, Propaganda, and the American Revolution

Slavery, Propaganda, and the American Revolution

Synopsis

A study of how blacks were excluded from the Revolutionary patriots' goals for American liberatio

Excerpt

I n 1764, the Boston lawyer and firebrand James Otis transcended his local reputation and parochial interests to publish the first major pamphlet of the revolutionary era. In a theme that would come to define the American Revolution, Otis argued against taxing measures on the basis of colonists' natural rights. But in another theme that would not take hold with the same tenacity, Otis was led to ask: "Does it follow that 'tis right to enslave a man because he is black? Will short curl'd hair like wool, instead of christian hair, as 'tis called by those whose hearts are as hard as the nether millstone, help the argument? Can any logical inference in favour of slavery be drawn from a flat nose, a long or a short face?" (Otis 29).

Otis was among the cadre of colonial Americans whose call to freedom did not ignore those who were unfree in the American colonies. A growing antislavery movement existed in secular and religious circles in the decades before the American Revolution and included such resolute patriots as Virginian Arthur Lee, Bostonians John Allen, Nathaniel Appleton, William Gordon, and Philadelphians Benjamin Rush and Thomas Paine. Antislavery sentiment was also heard in private patriot circles. In a long-remembered letter to John Adams, newly arrived in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress, Abigail Adams wrote: "I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province . . . It always appeared a most iniquitous Scheme to me -- fight ourselves for what . . .

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