Homework answer How did

October 22, 2003

Homework answer

How did the presence of slavery in the colonies affect the American Revolution.

I was looking for a coherent essay that hit some or all of the following points.

1, Presence of real slavery in the colonies, especially in Virginia, sharpened American colonists' thought about what it meant to be subservient to another. I had spent a lot of time in class arguing that because of slavery many Virginians had an essentially binary notion of freedom: you were free (and white and male) or you were a slave (and black). For the crown to make decisions for free white Virginia males without consulting them, was to reduce them to the status of slaves. They read George Washington to Brian Fairfax, 1774, where GW uses this rhetoric and we had done a close reading of the letter in class.

2, Lord Dunmore offered freedom to any slaves who would leave their masters and join the British in 1775. His action was disowned by his superiors, but it was too late: Dunmore had radicalized a lot of Virginia planters who would otherwise have been very sympathetic to the crown position.

3, Former slaves served in both armies. Particularly during the Southern campaign, British officers continued Dunmore's policy of offering freedom to slaves who served Patriot masters. They did return slaves to loyalist masters. A lot of black people fled to British lines, many black men took up arms, these former slaves all left the country after the war - part of the roughly 5% of the North American population who emigrated after the Revolution. Slaves and free blacks, especially from the North, also took up arms with the Continental Army and Washington made offers to slaves as well.

Several students made another point which I had not been looking for but which I gave them credit for.
4, The colonies had a strong economy before the Revolution. This economy was built on exporting tropical staples from Virginia and on trade between New England and the Caribbean. The colonial economy was based on slavery, without slavery they would not have been in an economic position to contemplate independence.

I ended up getting a lot of bad essays on this question - it was the preferred choice for people who had not been keeping up and wanted to BS their way through the exam. I also got a lot of discussion about slavery and the Constitution, something that was outside of the topic.

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Posted by Red Ted at October 22, 2003 11:54 AM | TrackBack