The Atlantic slave trade was still operating at the beginning of the 19th Century, but there was a growing abolitionist movement in the United States. The state of Pennsylvania had passed a Gradual Abolition Act in 1780, which promised to free at age 28 all children born to enslaved women, creating a free black cohort beginning in 1808. Philadelphia whites by 1800 began to feel uncertainty about a growing free black population and, in response, sought legislation to close the state’s borders to free blacks, register all African American residents in the state, and have the freedom to sell black lawbreakers. James Forten, a black veteran of the War of Independence and well-to-do Philadelphia businessman, published an eight page pamphlet in protest of the proposed legislation.
What is the significance of this document for understanding America at the beginning of the 19th Century?
How does this document add to our understanding of citizenship at the beginning of the 19th Century?
What is the relationship between Forten’s second letter and other readings assigned for the week, including John Adams views on slavery, Hector St. John Creveceour’s views on the definition of an American, and Benjamin Rush’s “Thoughts upon Female Education”?
How does Forten’s protest speak to the tensions between democratic ideals and reality in the new republic?
Please pose at least one discussion question about this reading in a separate answer from your essay. What do you think is important to talk about with regard to this text?