Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America

Douglas R. Egerton, Author . Oxford Univ. $29.95 (342p) ISBN 978-0-19-530669-9

Egerton (Gabriel's Rebellion ) traverses the rise and the debatable inevitability of slavery in the United States between the end of the Seven Years' War (1763) and Jefferson's election (1800), arguing that the “division of the Republic into free wage labor sections and proslavery regions did not have to happen that way.” But it did; in spite of the uprisings by Denmark Vesey and Gabriel echoing slogans from the fight for independence, the American Revolution “failed to fulfill its promise of freedom.” If the territory seems familiar, the author approaches it on a road less traveled, surveying what the revolution meant to black contemporaries: Jefferson's servant Richard responds to the ideological arguments concerning slavery; Quok Walker's successful lawsuit merges with an account of emancipation in the states north of Delaware; Titus, who fought with the Loyalists, leads to the examination of the role of black combatants. Egerton has crammed a great deal of political, legal and social history into this dense but accessible book. He has achieved an extraordinary synthesis, while maintaining a careful attentiveness to regional, even state, differences during this period when the United States was aborning and things might have happened differently. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/13/2008
Release date: 12/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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