The American Revolution is not an accurate name for what transpired in North America in the 1770’s to the 1780’s. A far more accurate name for what went down would be: The White American Revolution. The American Revolution in many ways reinforced the Patriot’s relationship and commitment of that relationship to slavery. That’s not to say that new ideas of liberty and equality were not surfacing as well, but in the pledge of allegiance to this new country, this so-called liberty and justice for all definitely came with terms and conditions – those conditions being that liberty and justice was only available to white Americans. If you differed from said conditions, sorry – liberty and justice were out of stock for the most part.
While The American Revolution brought about ideas of liberty and equality that were non-existent before, these ideals didn’t apply to everyone and in a lot of ways the Revolution accomplished the exact opposite when it involved African Americans and slavery. Going into the Revolution, African Americans knew that they would not be immediately given all of the rights of a free man. This is exemplified in Peter Bestes, Sambo Freeman, Felix Holbrook, and Chester Joie’s 1773 Letter to Local Representatives. They wrote this letter along with other slaves and in it, state that they were, very sensible that it would be highly detrimental to our present masters, if we were allowed to demand all that of right belongs to us for past services; this we disclaim. This statement shows that the slaves knew that going into the Revolution that things would be somewhat different for them.
They were still on board with and supported The Patriots. It was at the time thought to be important to the preservation of the Union to keep a balance of sorts of votes from both slave states and free states. So yes, there was in a sense a paradox developing between the beliefs about freedom, liberty, and equality by the Patriots and the hypocrisy they exhibited when it came to stretching these beliefs to the African American slaves. The fact of the matter was that, the sentiments of the American Revolution and the equality evoked by the Declaration of Independence stood in contrast to the status of most black Americans. Despite this, thousands of black Americans fought against the British in hopes of a new order.
Despite the disclusion African Americans faced and the hypocrisy the Patriots so blatantly practiced, the African American Slaves knew that they were getting nowhere under the current regime, and the promise of a new one – even if it wasn’t perfect – still inspired hope in all of them. The Emancipation Proclamation was a huge step for African American slaves, but it in no way equated to complete freedom. For starters, The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the states that were in rebellion. This was in order to help the troops so that African Americans could help fight in the war.
Of course, they were always the ones on the front lines – fighting someone else’s war. They too had much to gain from a win, but it was still an abuse of power on behalf of the white Patriots. The initial intent of the war wasn’t for the freedom of slaves – but for the preservation of the Union. The narrative only changed after The Emancipation Proclamation was passed. The way that African Americans were treated during The American Revolution is a perfect example of the limits that even so-called radicals have.
The term radical somewhat implies a certain selflessness – you picture a people’s hero. Someone that is fighting or, well for liberty and justice for all after all. This was not the case during the American Revolution – or as we call it in this paper – The White American Revolution. The Patriots fought for themselves and each other, this much is true. The limit came when deciding who was included in the narrative – who was really included in each other. Unfortunately, that was where the line was drawn between Americans and African Americans.
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