Freedom Press

The Patriot’s Dilemma


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Many accounts of the US founding hinge on a fundamental conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery interests. By 1776, influential American patriots widely acknowledged that slavery was morally wrong and incompatible with the ideals of the republic. But a republic for whom? As Timothy Messer-Kruse argues, their real motivations have been misinterpreted for more than 200 years.

White abolitionists were primarily concerned with the protection and betterment of the white community – not the liberation of enslaved Black people. Their great conundrum was that slavery had to end because it created what they saw as a dangerous, disloyal and dependent population, but it couldn’t be abolished without endangering their (white) republic. Messer-Kruse reveals how the founders’ solution was through schemes for former slaves’ banishment to the western frontier or overseas, their legal removal from the category of ‘citizen’, and schemes of gradual emancipation that tightly policed African American communities.

Urgent and controversial, The Patriots’ Dilemma breaks through the long-running debate as to whether the founders fought or defended slavery. Patriots reluctantly came to embrace slavery both for its economic and geopolitical power and because they no longer believed there were other ready options to building a white republic. Ultimately, efforts to ethnically cleanse the emerging US polity of Black people failed due to the resistance of the Black community itself.