Slavery in Anglo-American Relations
AMERICAN PARTISANS WERE not the only ones to use American slavery against each other in debates unrelated on the surface to chattel bondage. For slavery permeated the dispute over national superiority between the United States and Great Britain during the War of 1812 and the unstable entente that followed. It suffused the attacks of nationalists in both countries on the national honor, morality, and overall character of their foes. It came into play as both sides claimed the superiority of their respective political institutions.
But neither nation spoke with one voice on slavery. This was particularly true of the United States, where the interjection of British voices magnified the crescendo of sectional dissonance over slavery.1 The Anglo-American debate sharpened the desire of many Northerners to free themselves from the guilt of American slavery by sectionalizing or removing it. Furthermore, the addition of Britons' influential voices to the chorus of critics drove some white Southerners toward the defense of slavery as a positive good. Slavery's appearance on the Atlantic stage helped to shape America's domestic dispute over the issue.
Slavery had intermittently and fleetingly entered Anglo-American relations beginning with the American Revolution, but the War of 1812 lodged it there more firmly. Prowar Americans from both North and South used the rhetoric of slavery to express their outrage over the British system of impressments. Naval supremacy was vital to Britain's ability to wage its wars with France following the French Revolution, and from their onset the Royal Navy had forcibly boarded American ships to find deserters and press expatriated Englishmen into its service, often taking native-born American citizens along with them. This had long been a diplomatic sticking point between the two nations and had brought them to the brink of war on occasion, such as in 1807 after a particularly egregious impressment in American waters. The American gov-