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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersLiving the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican LifeTopic: ReligionTopic: PoliticsTopic: ExpansionTopic: Equality
Topic: Equality
Overview of Living the Revolution
Resource Menu: Equality
Text 1. Founding Fathers on Equality
Text 2. Founding Fathers on Slavery
Text 3. African Americans on Slavery
» Reading Guide
•  Link


Text 4. Woman's Role
Text 5. Women on Equality
Text 6. Summing Up
RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
3.  African Americans on Slavery
- Benjamin Banneker and Thomas Jefferson, letters of August 1791
- Memorial of [Free-Men of Colour] to the South Carolina Senate, 1791

  Benjamin Banneker

Two texts from 1791, both from free black men to white slaveholders. Enslaved Africans had no voice, of course, but "free men of color" who lived in the North and the South had the platform (and courage) to engage their white countrymen in discourse. Not "confront"—an activist word of our times. But to engage. Yet their polite and logical statements are no less than profound calls to conscience.

An accomplished "free man of color" from Maryland, Benjamin Banneker writes a plea to Jefferson that he promote the just treatment of enslaved persons and join the voices for emancipation. Jefferson replies, in effect, "someday." Farther south, in Charleston, a group of free black men petition the legislature to repeal provisions of a colonial law that restricted their rights as citizens—rights guaranteed in the recently ratified Bill of Rights. Their petition was rejected. Worthwhile texts to use in the history classroom as early abolitionist documents, and in the English classroom as examples of logical persuasion for hostile audiences. 6 pages.


Discussion questions
  ·  How do Banneker and the South Carolina petitioners lay out the logic of their positions? What differing strategies do they use to persuade their slave-holding audiences?
  ·  Do they address the white men as equals?
  ·  What are these black men asking the white men for? Equality? Rights? Justice? Freedom?
  ·  Judge Jefferson's response to Banneker—first, in his day from a peer's perspective; then, in our day from your perspective.
  ·  In your estimation, how significant are these early pleas in the American abolition movement?


» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  What notions of equality were held by early republican leaders? free black men? white women?
  •  How did their notions of equality and rights correspond?
  •  How did each group mold its public voice? How did each use its power?
  •  To what extent did America succeed in "living the revolution" by 1820?




Toolbox: Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Predicaments | Religion | Politics | Expansion | Equality


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