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Powerful Anti-Slavery Argument Likely by John Laurens
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Available as part of The Alexander Hamilton Collection

Many Slaves …share in the dangers and glory of the efforts made by US, the freeborn members of the United States, to enjoy, undisturbed, the common rights of human nature; and THEY remain SLAVES!... The enlightened equity of a free people, cannot suffer them to be ungrateful.

ANTIBIASTES. Newspaper. “Observations on the slaves and the Indentured Servants inlisted in the Army…” Front page printing, in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal, October 13, 1777. Boston: Benjamin Edes. 4 pp., 10 x 15½ in.

Inventory #24438      

The pseudonymous author is intimately familiar with day-to-day difficulties of the Revolutionary War army and militias. Historian Robert G. Parkinson notes that this was written while John Laurens was first attempting to convince his father Henry Laurens, then the President of Congress, and Congress (through his father), and George Washington of the necessity of creating a battalion of slaves. Parkinson points out similarities between Antibiastes’ arguments, phrasing, and vocabulary, and John Laurens’ writings. John Laurens hoped to prove to Americans that slaves merited freedom and citizenship while helping to rebuild the army, which suffered from a high rate of desertion by free soldiers.[1]

Historian Gregory Massey has noted the closeness of father and son in their style and arguments, even when they disagreed with each other.[2] The similarities of the arguments to Henry Laurens’ sentiments, assigning equal blame to the Americans for accepting the introduction of slavery, further supports attributing Antibiastes to John Laurens.

Laurens did not succeed at the time. James Varnum of Rhode Island was able to raise a black regiment in early 1778, but was not as sanguine about full emancipation and equality for the formerly enslaved.

Provenance

Original subscriber Theodore Foster, Esq., U.S. Senator from Rhode Island.


[1] Robert G. Parkinson, The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 364-67.

[2] Greg Massey, John Laurens and the American Revolution (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), 3.


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