A ‘Black Declaration of Independence’?

War, Republic, and Race in the United States of America, 1775–1787
  • Marie-Jeanne Rossignol
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


The question of the connection between republic and race has come to the fore in the past decade, most particularly because new interpretations of the Haitian Revolution have incorporated the Caribbean experience decisively into the Age of Atlantic Revolutions. They have put forward the idea that universal republicanism as understood by French white revolutionaries did not include the slaves or even ex-slaves as equals in the new social compact, even after white leaders proclaimed the abolition of slavery in 1794.1 In contrast, the rebellious slaves in Saint-Domingue are now presented provocatively by a number of historians as the real radicals of a newly defined Enlightenment, freedom fighters whose struggle managed to push the limits of liberty beyond the accepted meaning of the time and towards genuine universalism. Other historians, however, strongly oppose the idea.2


American Revolution Black Patriotism Free Black British Army British Troop 
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  1. 4.
    For republicanism as an overarching paradigm in United States intellectual his-tory, most particularly in the history of the early American Republic, see Daniel T. Rodgers, ‘Republicanism: The Career of a Concept’, The Journal of American History 79/1 (1992): 11–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 8.
    A pioneer historian in demonstrating the centrality of slavery to the founding of the nation was Staughton Lynd, Class Conflict, Slavery and the Constitution (2nd edn, New York, 2009). An influential collection was Ira Berlin and Ronald Hoffman (eds), Slavery and Freedom in the Age ofthe American Revolution (Charlottesville, VA, 1983). Robin Einhorn has shown that the fiscal policies of the new nation were determined by slavery in American Taxation, American Slavery (Chicago, 2006). David Waldstreicher (Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification, New York, 2009) has currently joined forces with Lynd to claim that the American Revolution was due primarily to economic fears on the part of the colonials, who did not believe Britain properly defended their slavery interests; see Staughton Lynd and David Waldstreicher, ‘Reflections on Economic Interpretation, Slavery, the People Out of Doors, and Top Down versus Bottom Up’, William and Mary Quarterly 68/4 (October 2011): 653.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
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    Sylvia Frey, ‘Between Slavery and Freedom: Virginia Blacks in the Revolution’, The Journal of Southern History 49/3 (1983): 376–377.Google Scholar
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    The issue of compensation for the slaves who had been evacuated with the British troops and loyalist planters rankled for a long time in British—American relationships; see Arnett G. Lindsay, ‘Diplomatic Relations Between the United States and Great Britain on the Return of Negro Slaves, 1783–1828’, Journal of Negro History 5 (October 1920): 418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    W. B. Hartgrove, ‘The Negro Soldier in the American Revolution’, The Journal of Negro History 1/2 (April 1916): 110–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For the hopes of the Northern free black community, see James Brewer Stewart, ‘Modernizing “Difference”: The Political Meanings of Color in the Free States, 1776–1840’, Journal of the Early Republic 19/4 (1999): 694, 696. Paul Cuffe was born free in Massachusetts in 1759 and he went on to become a blockade-runner on behalf of the patriots, also making sure that blacks were not denied the vote. See Encyclopedia of African-American History, vol. 1, 358–359. James Forten also was a sailor on the patriot side during the war, and he became a wealthy philanthropist afterwards; see Encyclopedia, vol. 2, 36–37. Julie Winch, in A Gentleman of Color. The Life of James Forten (New York, 2002), chronicles this major figure in early American life. Agrippa Hull is discussed in Nash and Hodges, Friends of Liberty. After service in the war, Hull’s commitment to the new nation, its leaders, and its institutions was exemplified through his participation in the crushing of Shay’s Rebellion. More generally, recent literature on ‘black founders’ as well as historiographical questions on the subject is synthetized in Richard S. Newman and Roy E. Finkenbine, ‘Black Founders in the New Republic: Introduction’, William and Mary Quarterly 64/1 (2007): 83–94.Google Scholar
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    Mitch Kachun, ‘From Forgotten Founder to Indispensable Icon: Crispus Attucks, Black Citizenship, and Collective Memory, 1770–1865’, Journal of the Early Republic 29/2 (2009): 249–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Marie-Jeanne Rossignol 2013

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  • Marie-Jeanne Rossignol

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