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American Slavery, American Freedom

Edmund S. Morgan in his book American Slavery, American Freedom discusses the tension in the developing American identity between slavery and freedom, slavery for those brought to this country against their will and freedom for the white population. This tension can be traced through American history first as slavery itself existed and then as the aftermath of slavery created a black underclass that still suffers from the social, economic, and political situation created by the slave era. The fact that slavery was allowed at all in a new nation dedicated to human freedom and self-government remains a blot on American history. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and contributed to the U.S. Constitution, yet he also owned slaves. George Washington did as well, though he freed all of his slaves, while Jefferson did not. They believed in human freedom, yet they kept some human beings as chattel. Jefferson and the white society of his time could not justify slavery as they were creating a new and freer nation, and they indeed largely ignored it at the time. Morgan's analysis shows that our current attitudes change the sort of questions we raise about the past and how we assess the answers, which is why men who valued freedom two centuries ago might own slaves while we see a conflict they either did not recognize or minimized in the face of their social and economic realities.

Jefferson might be singled out here, and he has been by numerous critics in recent years. However, as noted, he was not alone. Other Founding Fathers and early American leaders also owned slaves, as Morgan notes: "The rise of liberty and equality in America had been accomplished by the rise of slavery" (4). In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson did not make any exception for slaves when he made the statement, "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with ce...

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American Slavery, American Freedom. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 00:27, September 20, 2019, from