How did slavery advancement and colonists' liberty sense converge during the 17th and 18th century Revolution?

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In answering this question, we must first be very careful to avoid assigning causality to the parallel developments of slavery and liberty.  That is, we must be careful not to assume that the advance of slavery caused the colonists’ sense of liberty to grow or vice versa.  I would argue that these developments were largely parallel and not really connected to one another. 

Over the course of the 18th century, the colonists’ sense that they should have liberty grew.  This was due, in large part, to the fact that the British government left the colonists alone for much of this century.  The British, preoccupied with other matters, practiced a policy of “salutary neglect” with regard to the colonies.  The colonists came to regard this as the natural state of things.  As this policy continued, colonists came to feel that they had a right to the liberty that they had been granted by accident.

At the same time, the system of slavery was growing and becoming more entrenched.  This was due mostly, however, to economic pressures.  It was clear that the Southern colonies’ economies were going to continue to rely on growing staple crops for export.  It was also clear that slavery was going to be necessary in order to keep that economy going.  At the same time, much of the Northern economy was supported by the Atlantic slave trade and by the Southern plantation owners’ need for goods and services.  Therefore, slavery continued to become a bigger and bigger part of the American economy and society.

Eventually, these trends intersected.  The slave system became as important to America economically as the idea of liberty was in political terms.  In a way, it is possible to say that the growth of slavery helped to push the idea of liberty.  We can argue that the presence of slavery gave the American colonists an example of what they ought to fear.  Because they saw how badly they were treating their own slaves, they came to worry even more about being “enslaved” in any way themselves.  In this way, at least, we can say that the two came to be connected in a small way.

Thus, I would argue that the idea of liberty on the one hand, and the slave system on the other, grew in parallel for much of the 1700s.  The two were not necessarily connected in any causal way.  However, both became very important to American colonists by the time of the Revolution and both were integral aspects of our society at that time.

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To what degree did the advance of slavery and the advance of liberty parallel one another in the 17th and 18th centuries? In answering this question, please chart the growth and significance of slavery in the English colonies. Next consider English colonists’ sense of their own developing liberties. Be specific. Finally, how do these two strands of history come together at the time of the Revolution? Use the lectures, the textbook, and the other readings (such as Foner’s “To Call it Freedom”)

First of all, please note that we do not have access to your textbook, your readings, or your lecture notes.  Therefore, this answer will be more general and less specifically tailored to your class.  Please consult your textbook and lecture notes to see if you need to make additions and/or changes.

Over the course of colonial history, slavery became more and more prevalent and important.  At the beginning of colonial times, there were relatively few African slaves in the colonies.  It was not even clear that Africans would be perpetually enslaved.  Instead, it was possible that they might simply be seen as indentured servants similar to white indentured servants who were so common in the southern colonies.  However, African slavery became more and more vital to the colonial economy.  As this happened, a system of laws arose that entrenched the Africans’ status as slaves.  This made them into a special class of people who could very rarely be free and could almost never be accepted as full members of colonial society.

At the same time, American colonists were coming to have a more expansive idea of what liberties they had.  For much of the colonial period, the British left the American colonies more or less alone and allowed them to govern themselves.  The American colonists came to regard this as the natural state of things.  They came to believe that they deserved political and personal rights that were to be protected from government infringement. 

Around the time of the Revolution, we can say that the development of slavery and the development of the idea of liberty came together in something of a strange way.  Beginning after the French and Indian War, the colonists came to believe that the British government was taking away rights that they legitimately deserved to enjoy.  They also came to equate this with slavery.  They came to believe that the British government imposed slavery on its subjects because they did not have rights that were free from government intervention.  They felt that the British system enslaved people (them in particular) because it did not give them the right to be represented in government.  Therefore, even as slavery was a very important part of their economy, they started to argue that the British government was enslaving them and that, therefore, they had the right to rebel against that government.

Over time, the American colonists came to believe that they had a set of liberties and that the British government was enslaving them by denying those liberties.  This was somewhat perverse because this feeling arose at a time when the colonists themselves had developed a system in which they depended on enslaved Africans.

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